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The Intelligibility of Nature: How Science Makes Sense of the World (science.culture) Paperback – March 1, 2008

ISBN-13: 000-0226139492 ISBN-10: 0226139492 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Series: science.culture
  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226139492
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226139494
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cornell historian of science Dear (Revolutionizing the Sciences) here looks at central developments in Western science since the 16th century in terms of intelligibility versus instrumentality. His distinction asks of any given theory: does its success depend on its claims to expressing something about the nature of reality, or on its ability to produce experimental results? Dear draws out nuanced discussions of, for example, the way Newton's contemporaries viewed his work on gravity, the early development of the mechanical world view from the Aristotelian perspective, and the fundamental differences between the Copenhagen group's approach to quantum physics and David Bohm's. For specialists, it's science history at its best; non-specialist readers should be prepared to dig in and work hard, as much of this book presupposes at least a passing familiarity with a great deal of scientific theory.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"In an introduction, six detailed chapters, and a final summation, Mr. Dear examines the tension between theory and practice in such sciences as celestial mechanics, taxonomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and quantum theory. The portraits of individual scientists, from Newton, Boyle, and Faraday to Einstein and Bohr, are vivid and pithy; he has a good ear for the apt quote that lets us hear their voices. His chapter on taxonomy, which franky I was dreading, proves unexpectedly fascinating."
(Eric Ormsby The New York Sun)

"Arranging his main chapters chronologically from Galileo to the present, Dear uses [his] binary analytical scheme to link the centuries together, laudably devoting roughly equal attention to the physical, chemical and life sciences. . . . Eloquently written, and embracing an impressive range of topics, Dear's The Intelligibility of Nature admirably demonstrates that historians can make trenchant comments on the present as well as the past."
(Paticia Fara TLS)

“Just as the body of knowledge evolves over time, so does the way scientists view the world they are explaining. This interplay between knowledge and mental model is the subject of Peter Dear's book. He shows how mechanistic explanations in physics and chemistry became ever more frequent after the industrial revolution, only to be supplanted by the nihilism of quantum theory in the social turmoil that followed the first world war. It is full of insights into how society, culture and people's perception interweave across biology, chemistry and physics.”

(Adrian Barnett New Scientist)

“Scientists who wish to reflect on their vocation will gain valuable insights from this beautifully contrived book, and all readers will be prompted to think more carefully about the nature and ethos of science.”

(Richard Yeo Nature)

The Intelligibility of Nature is a very impressive and compelling book about the relationship between instrumentalism and realism in the sciences from 1600 to 1950. Peter Dear argues for a fascinating reinterpretation of the Scientific Revolution and its aftermath, showing how between the time of Descartes and that of Lavoisier, natural philosophy and practical techniques merged: that process, this book shows, was decisive for the emergence of modern science. This is a lucid and intelligent history.”
(Simon Schaffer Simon Schaffer)

"Dear weaves together a great deal of academic history of modern physics, chemistry, and biology into a concise, coherent, and original narrative that is introductory without ever being superficial.”
(Matthew L. Jones Science)

"An excellent treatise on the dualistic character of science in history."
(Tadeusz Aniszewski Plant Science Bulletin)

"An excellent brief introduction to the (often complex) interaction between 'natural philosophy' and 'instrumentality' in the development of Western science from the Scientific Revolution to the present."
(Robert J. Deltete Quarterly Review of Biology)

"A good read for anyone interested in science and as a component of an undergraduate course in the history and philosophy of sceince."
(Persepectives on Science and Christian Faith)

"This is a book written for a broad audience of educated people. No specific knowledge of the state of the art of research in the history of modern science is presupposed. . . . The chapters contain a lot of useful material, helping the reader to understand the main lines of development in modern science. It is a pleasure to read."
(Michael Esfield History & Philosophy of Life Sciences)

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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Intelligibility of Nature: How Science Makes Sense of the World focuses on science's role as applied knowledge, which moves from theory to applications in daily life, and provides a history of the ongoing conflicts between theory development and applications. Historical references are used to examine how the differing processes of knowing and doing come together - or not - and document key episodes from Darwin to Einstein. The Intelligibility of Nature is especially recommended for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in nature and science.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By spinoza on March 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
In general I really like Peter Dear's work (his Revolutionizing the Sciences is highly recommended), and his Intelligibility of Nature is as readable and fascinating to those interested in the history of science as his other publications. Here his focus on intelligibility brings out some key aspects in understanding the rise of science in European history. Unfortunately I can't give the book five stars because I find its orientation and emphasis on French and British thinkers, and almost complete exclusion of early modern German natural philosophers, leads to a highly distorted interpretation of what really happened. He does touch on the Dutch natural philosopher Huygens, which is important, but there's absolutely no mention of Leibniz, Wolff, the German Schulphilosophen and (believe it or not) only a brief mention of Kant in reference to 19th century Kantianism! He could easily have devoted an entire chapter on Kant and his generation (Fichte, Schelling, Herder, Hamann, Hegel, Jacobi, the Spinozastreit(!), etc.) in regard to intelligibility and the question of truth in science. After all this generation formed the foundation of the rise and later dominance of German science and universities in the 19th and 20th centuries. The problem with Dear's (and many others') work is that his narrative implies he is following a general *European* intellectual history; the situation would have been improved if he had noted at the beginning he was narrowing his study to a selection of French and British thinkers.

The British- and Francocentric orientation to the history of science is common with American historians, so Dear is in good company.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Yuni on January 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is an educational read about the history and the evolution of Science and scientists. As a grad student in biology, I thought this would be a thought-provoking book on the line of work that I have chosen. Though interesting and thoughtful, the author's account is heavy on the physical sciences. He didn't write at all about how the rapid evolution of Science in modern times. I also found the book rather dull. I found it difficult to read it beyond the first chapter and gave up completing the book. I ended up reading only bits and pieces of the book that interested me. I wouldn't recommend it to the casual "layman" reader interested in the history of Science and scientists. This book is more of an academic exploration of that topic.
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0 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Shiro on July 3, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I will tell you I thought the book was a smart read but it doesnt leave room for much thought because its what the author thinks and its his opinion. I am giving this 1 star because of the 8am history discussion sessions I had to go to to discuss this book. Out of 30 kids I was one of 2 people who understood this book. The other was the TA.
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