The history of science was throughout my primary and secondary schooling, the unit I hated.  I just didn’t and still to some degree don’t really care about the so called “brilliantly designed” experiments and “great discoveries” made by some guy that’s been dead for hundreds of years and probably wore a wig when he was alive.  That’s always been my view on the Scientific Revolution.  So I was delighted when I saw the title of the first lecture, “How Scientific was the Scientific Revolution”.  “Finally”, I thought, “someone’s going to actually criticize the view that Newton, Galileo, Descartes, and company are to be revered as some sort of Mt. Olympus of science”.   The lecture didn’t actually take down the scientific-man in the closest form to a punk rock anthem I can imagine a philosophy professor getting, instead it recognized but didn’t mythologize, the figures of the scientific revolution.


That is to say that yes, Professor Cohen did like to name drop a lot during his lecture, but it wasn’t to say that the men of the scientific revolution were extraordinary in their motives for change.  His examination for the motives behind the revolution as a whole basically came down to that the partakers in the scientific revolution weren’t trying to forge something new, but instead were trying to capture a classical spirit for knowledge about the natural world.  In short, they were trying to be Aristotle.  I don’t necessarily think this gives men like Newton and Descartes enough credit, it makes them sound like fanboys, or imitators.  They weren’t I don’t think, trying to be Aristotle, but were I think grounded in the same spirit as him, one of curiosity for the natural world.  Curiosity, not classical studies, is what made the scientific revolution revolutionary.  Cohen concluded with the notion that the scientific revolution resulted in a greater of variety of voices in intellectualism for Western culture.  Where once there was just Aristotle there was then Descartes for philosophy, Newton for physics, Galileo for Astronomy, and everyone who followed them.  That is what was revolutionary about the scientific revolution, it was the moment western culture stopped obsessing over the Greeks and Romans and started to find that it had voices who were just as curious.


As far as the scientific revolution being scientific then, it doesn’t by modern senses.  Newton’s most famous works weren’t empirical, scientific method-driven, peer reviewed journal entries into investigating the natural world.  Yes, they employed some of each but in large part they were original inquiries into the stuff around him using logic.  He would have been a star pupil in a philosophy department. By modern standards no the scientific revolution was not scientific but that is because it wasn’t about a shift in science, it was a shift in ideas which led to the scientific method, scientific publishing, and modern science itself.