While the actual phrase, “the Scientific Revolution”, was not used until the early eighteenth century, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, and many more intellectuals did believe that they were part of an era that was producing radical changes to their view of the natural world.As Shapin records “…many key figures in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries vigorously expressed their view that they were proposing some very new and very important changes in knowledge of natural reality and in the practices by which legitimate knowledge was to be secured, assessed, and communicated” (5).  The extent and radicality of those changes is directly related to the meaning behind the eighteenth century phrase “the Scientific Revolution”.

The Scientific Revolution, as is commonly taught, is restricted to an era that had many changes regarding our knowledge about the natural world and was led by significant figures like Galileo, Boyle, Descartes, and Newton.  It was a change not only in the already established beliefs about the natural world but also many changes in the methods for acquisition of knowledge.  As Shapin acknowledges, “historians now reject even the notion that there was any single coherent cultural entity called “science” in the seventeenth century to undergo revolutionary change. There was, rather, a diverse array of cultural practices aimed at understanding, explaining, and controlling the natural world, each with different characteristics and each experiencing different modes of change” (4).  It is difficult to comprehend even the modern use of the phrase, the Scientific Revolution, as we are categorizing a an entire subject’s past through our modern interpretation of what they were doing.  Even today, the problem of what “science” is has yet to be solved as can be seen through the discourse by twentieth century philosophers and historians Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Steven Shapin.

Regardless of the past or present understanding of the Scientific Revolution, it is well accepted that not only did our methodology for obtaining knowledge and  beliefs about the natural world expand, but so did other characteristics of science.  For example, there is the depersonalization of nature, production of knowledge through disinterested methods or objective studies, and the ability to be able to criticize science for it social relations rather than its body of knowledge.  The developments just listed are all part of the legacy of the Scientific Revolution as they are all products of the commonly conceived time period, the sixteenth and seventeenth century, that has left a great cultural legacy.


Shapin, Steven. The scientific revolution. University of Chicago Press, 1996.