In the last ten years, a new school of sociology has grown up that sees science as not only relativistic but as a purely human construct; that ties scientists' findings about "nature" to their standing in the cultural and political milieu of which they are a part. Steven Shapin adds to this revisionist literature with a fascinating, paradoxical book that at once questions our notions of the scientific revolution of the last century and deepens our understanding of it. Shapin examines four themes in the history of modern science: mechanism (the idea of nature as a machine); objectivism; methodology and impartiality; and altruism (the idea that science can better the lot of mankind). He does so in three deft, incisive sections: "What Was Known?"; "How Was It Known?"; and "What Was the Knowledge For?" This excellent study, written for the layman, explains how the scientists' world shaped their knowledge of the natural world.
From Publishers Weekly
"There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it," says Shapin, a professor of sociology at U.C., San Diego in his introduction, "There was, rather, a diverse array of cultural practices aimed at understanding explaining, and controlling the natural world." Shapin's treatise on the currents that engendered modern science is a combination of history and philosophy of science for the interested and educated layperson, and it is indeed considerably more readable than many of the other philosophy of science books currently available. Several puzzling aspects of the writings of 16th- and 17th-century scientists are put into new perspective in his section titled: "Science as Religion's Handmaid." There are three basic sections of the book: "What Was Known?" covers major differences between the "new knowledge" of the scientific revolution and received wisdom of the ancients. "How Was It Known?" covers sources of authority (e.g., books or experience) and some of the experimental groundwork of major players such as Boyle and Galileo. And "What Was The Knowledge For?" explores the interactions of the new science with the political, religious and cultural dimensions of the European society in which it was embedded. This slim book would have benefited from a deeper consideration of the rivalry between English and Continental science (and scientists) and the relationship of the new science to the design and production of war machines. But Shapin does help the reader understand the direct intellectual link between that time and our own. Illustrations, all taken from original sources, add a nice touch.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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