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About this book

Peter Dear creates a fascinating picture of the origins and development of scientific thought and practice in early modern Europe. The second edition of this successful text has been updated and expanded in the light of recent scholarship, offering greater treatment of key topics such as alchemy and medicine.

Table of Contents

Introduction Natural Philosophy and Instrumentality

Abstract
What is knowledge? A bird, we say, knows how to fly. But we would not like to claim that it therefore knows aeronautics: there have never been avian Wright brothers.
Peter Dear

Chapter Three. The Alchemist, the Craftsman, and the Scholar

Abstract
The restoration of ancient culture was just one of the preoccupations of sixteenth-century discussions about knowledge of the natural world. Outside those arenas in which the university-educated paraded their humanist credentials, other voices began to be raised against the dominance of scholastic values in learning. In particular, the usual Aristotelian emphasis on contemplative rather than practical knowledge of nature came in for severe criticism, usually on moral grounds. In Greek, Aristotle’s distinction was denoted by the terms epistēmē and technē, corresponding to the Latin scientia and ars (“science” and “art”). The school stress on scientia appeared to some critics as a deliberate neglect of practical matters, being of especial culpability in the case of medicine, in which practical ends were most obviously at issue.
Peter Dear

Chapter Five. Mechanism and Corpuscles: Descartes Builds a Universe

Abstract
It was one thing to hold particular ideals, whether instrumental or mathematical, concerning the kinds of knowledge about the world that were desirable. But what guaranteed that such knowledge was possible? Was the world we live in suited to providing it?
Peter Dear

Chapter Seven. Experiment: How to Learn Things about Nature in the Seventeenth Century

Abstract
Aristotle had asserted unequivocally that all knowledge has its origins in experience. He was echoed by scholastic Aristotelians, so that the aphorism “there is nothing in the mind which was not first in the senses” became a standard philosophical maxim in the later Middle Ages.1 Despite this fact, many non-Aristotelian philosophers in the seventeenth century had taken to criticizing the approaches to learning about nature that were promulgated by the scholastics for ignoring the lessons of the senses. Francis Bacon was but one among many in his stated view that Aristotle “did not properly consult experience … after making his decisions arbitrarily, he parades experience around, distorted to suit his opinions, a captive.”2 Bacon’s became a common view: Aristotelian philosophy was often represented as being obsessed with logic and verbal subtleties, reluctant to grapple with things themselves as encountered through the senses. The rhetoric of the Baconian Royal Society came equally to incorporate such a picture of Aristotelianism, its spokesmen making frequent remarks dismissive of scholastic obsession with words instead of things.
Peter Dear
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