Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500-1700

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ISBN-13: 978-0691088600
ISBN-10: 0691088608
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Where did science come from? Somehow, the abstract reasoning of the ancient Greeks turned into a multibillion-dollar knowledge-farming industry, and the tipping point between the two holds endless fascination. Historian of science Peter Dear examines the transitional period in detail in the slim Revolutionizing the Sciences. It was designed as a textbook, but its organization should appeal to general readers as well. Dense but accessible, Dear's prose encourages the reader to abandon preconceptions about medieval and Renaissance scientific understanding and investigation. Dear hopes to show that the Scientific Revolution, though vitally important, was actually a natural development from preceding philosophical thinking, and his arguments are compelling.

... the picture of a superstitious and credulous Europe in 1500 giving way, by 1700, to a cool, rationalistic, scientific Europe continues to have a strong hold on our views of the past. The astrology, demonology, and so forth of fifteenth-century figures [...] were ingredients of the intellectual ferment of the next couple of centuries; they were not philosophical negatives of a new rationality that would sweep them away.

Though the book focuses more on physical sciences than biology and medicine, this serves the author well, as the metascientific advances of the period were concentrated within astronomy, physics, and mathematics. Even those readers without grade pressure will find that careful scrutiny pays off well; Dear includes a huge list of resources to follow up with after finishing this work of necessarily limited scope. Revolutionizing the Sciences offers a broad perspective on how modern--and even postmodern--science came to be, and for that it deserves wide attention. --Rob Lightner

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Winner of the Watson Davis And Helen Miles Davis Prize


[Dear] throws interesting light on the changing criteria used to evaluate natural knowledge, especially the increasing emphasis on experiment. . . . As a full and accurate account of such matters, this book is the best available, and I would recommend it to anyone."--Michael Hunter, Nature

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691088608
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691088600
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,363,552 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ishroq on January 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
Overall, for an introductory work I think Dear presents his aim clearly and handles the subject he deals with well. For the various developments that took place in the physical sciences, he provides ample evidence from the primary texts of various key figures as well as from secondary literature which he references in the endnotes. Also, the fact that he does not treat the subject matter of the book anachronistically is another positive feature of his presentation. However, a few reservations are in order. First, it would have been helpful if Dear had referenced the Aristotelian theses, to which all the various key figures discussed Dear says constantly objected in developing their own ideas, in Aristotle's works themselves. An example of this would be Galileo's criticism of Aristotle's view that heavy bodies fall faster than light ones. There's disagreement about whether or not Galileo even got Aristotle right on this issue. Another example would be the distinction Dear draws (in chapter 4) between pure and mixed mathematics which he attributes to the Aristotelians and against which Galileo and others reacted. Where is exactly is this distinction in Aristotle's works? And if it was drawn by the later (scholastic) Aristotelian tradition, who exactly were they (names?) and where in their works did they uphold it? Another important point which I think Dear should've included in his book (at least even in passing) is whether or not anyone from the Aristotelian tradition responded to these developments in the various sciences which had undermined their doctrines. How, for example, did they receive Galileo's or Francis Bacon's criticisms? Or how did they respond to the mechanistic conception of the world which originated with Descartes?Read more ›
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25 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Viktor Blasjo on July 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a barely adequate survey text. There are many imperfections, of which I shall note a few.

It is claimed that the scientific revolution was based on a resurrection of mathematics from the "pure" and inapplicable. For example: "Galileo and other mathematicians rejected the disciplinary boundary between natural philosophy and mathematics by arguing that mathematics was crucially important in drawing legitimate physical conclusions." (p. 73). "This is where Galileo is such a useful figure" (p. 72). Who ever ever tried to uphold this "disciplinary boundary"? No one is named; there is no quotation or reference, other than generic talk of "Aristotelians," the perpetual villains who are never specified. Similarly, the foolish distinction between "pure" and "mixed" mathematics is also called "Aristotelian" (p. 17). There is no reference to Aristotle for the simple reason that there is none. Aristotle never made such a nonsensical division, nor did anyone with half a brain. The terms in fact originate with Bacon and were invented for his specific propaganda purposes. But Dear swallows it uncritically as absolute truth. Dear is right that "all revolutions are revolution against something" (p. 3), but he fails to consider the possibility that the revolution defines itself against a straw man.

Dear claims that "Kepler responded to the challenge [of Tycho's system] by producing models that could be expressed in Ptolemaic, Copernican, or Tychonic terms" (pp. 76-77). This is complete nonsense. There are no such models.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 4, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Beautiful, clean print, perfect cover. Nice!
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1 of 10 people found the following review helpful By NerdyMom on February 1, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very dry reading, greatly discussed the topics it covers but boring. Had a hard time staying awake reading it for my class.
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