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The Scientific Revolution (science.culture) 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0226750217
ISBN-10: 0226750213
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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: science.culture
  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226750213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226750217
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
I am amazed by the review written by the reader from Sydney. This book does not pretend to give a chronological narrative of who did what when in the making of modern science. There are many books that do that job. Instead, Shapin is interested in what difference the Scientific Revolution made to how people at the time, and how we, think about the natural world. The major changes may have been the new idea that nature could be investigated and understood, not merely regarded with awe and fear; that careful, repeatable experiments could yield information about how nature works; and that this new approach to nature changed how human beings regarded our relation to the natural world and our place in it. If nature is something that we can explore and understand, then we have a new power; we are no longer on a par with the natural world, because we can see into it. The ways in which knowledge is acquired, or made, and why it matters that we pursue and develop this knowledge are part of Shapin's central theme. These are not small questions, and to my mind they are addressed elegantly in this short but very substantial book.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
Shapin opens his 'Scientific Revolution' with the paradoxical statement, "there was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it." Shapin proceeds to use the next 150 or so pages to explain himself. The book is firmly structured in three sections, addressing the what, how, and why of scientific knowledge in the seventeenth century; the contents of each section are similarly well-structured, but seem to discuss more than the simple titles suggest. Examining the very foundations of scientific thought and the manner in which the modern distinction between legitimate science and voodoo came about, Shapin uses the Scientific Revolution as a venue for introducing his and other scholars' views on both the essential nature of modern science and the way in which ideas evolve. Explanatory notes where appropriate make the reading accessible to those unfamiliar with science history or philosophy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steven E. Romer on June 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have studied science and the history of science for a long time. I taught experimental methodology at Emory University also. This book is a must-read for it's unique insights into the culture and mindset of the times when science arose and how it related to the politics of the era (revolutions, protestant reformation, and freedom etc.). I enjoyed how the author shows the relationship of religious ideas of the time to science -- they were reading the "other holy book" or "the book of nature" which was available for all to read.

An especially interesting aspect of this book for me was that at the end of it he shows that practical ideas or purposes were not the motive for the research that was done, and that much of the best practical applications of the research which was done around the 16-1700's did not come into play until much later -- hundreds of years later in many instances. The abstract pursuit of truth about the world, the reading of "the other holy book" was the thing. (I emphasize this aspect of science in my own book also)The Textbook of the Universe: The Genetic Ascent to God.

It also brings to light other important differences with other cultures -- such as why science never took off in asia before western ideas invaded over there. Oriental philosophy and thinking tends to be resolutely practical to the point that it could be considered a form of blindness for them. Their history of philosophy is filled with practical conundrums, not abstract theories of universal truths. They never had any individualistic freedom movements either. That difference is an extremely important insight into the western impetus to science.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Duncan Philip on March 18, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My use of the word "modest" is not meant to imply any limitation on quality, but simply to indicate that, in relatively few words, Steven Shapin has summarised the debate concerning the revolutionary nature of 17th century changes in the investigation of nature and the philosophical grounding thereof. Shapin makes clear his view that the changes hardly deserve the title "revolutionary" and he explains why in clear and not particularly demanding language. Nonetheless, this is a scholarly book. It happens that I have some limited background in the history and philosophy of science, but I would imagine that a reader without any of that background might find the book rather heavy going. But I enjoyed it very much.

I did not count the book and journal references in the bibliographic essay at the end of the book, but there are surely hundreds. Thus, the serious student has indications as to where he or she may begin study of the period, the people involved, the technical changes in investigation and the ideas under consideration.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By InquiringMind on November 28, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Despite what Amazon indicates above, I am not reviewing a Kindle Edition, but rather the paperback edition.

I guess I should have been prepared for the limited scope of this work when I saw that it is composed in only three chapters and a concluding bibliographic essay. But having just finished it, I feel disappointed.

So much more could have been done with the concept. I originally rated this with two stars, but realized later that I was rating what I hoped the book would be, rather than what it was. So I'll add a few modifying comments before expressing my disappointment. Shapin does a good job of setting the social and intellectual stage for the growth and development of natural philosophy out of the Scholastic philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas. He also introduces an interesting comparison between natural philosophy and natural history and builds on it throughout the book. And he uses quotations extensively even though he provides no citation tools for tracking the quotes down. For all we know he could have been making them up.

The author's apparent purpose is to link three ideas: What was natural philosophy, how was it done and what was it done for (hence the three chapter format)? Rather than a full-blown history of the mythical scientific revolution, he synthesizes modern revisionist history to tell us primarily what the scientific revolution was not. Given this understanding, the author admirably achieves his goal.

The scope of this book is far more limited than I was anticipating or desiring. His discussion of 17th century players is very limited. Again, he warned me in the Introduction, but maybe his warning should have been stronger. In retrospect I see that he deals extensively with only Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Boyle, and Newton.
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