The History and Philosophy of Science: A Reader
We are pleased to present this collection of foundational texts in all the major fields of science as it developed in Western culture from antiquity through the end of the nineteenth century. Our aim is to make accessible key scientific discoveries, observations, experiments, contributions to methodology, and theories as they are described in the works of great innovators, such as Aristotle, Euclid, Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Harvey, Newton, Lavoisier, Darwin, Faraday, and Maxwell. We hope that this volume will prove useful for introducing a wide audience of potential readers to a broad historical and philosophical perspective on the origin and development of sciences such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, and the life sciences.
These carefully selected original source readings are intended to serve as the core sourcebook for an advanced undergraduate or graduate-level class in the history of science and/or philosophy of science. We think that it is important for people working in these fields to be acquainted with these texts and hope that the volume will become a standard introduction to these disciplines. The collection grew out of our teaching of an intensive, year-long double-credit introduction to the history and philosophy of science and mathematics emphasizing direct engagement with primary texts at Boston College. In the fall of 2008, Pat Byrne, our department chair, commissioned us with the responsibility of revitalizing the “New Scientific Visions” course as part of the great books program (Perspectives) at Boston College. Although the field of history and philosophy of science is active and professionally well-established today, we found it surprisingly difficult to find a collection of primary source material in the history of science that didn’t begin with Copernicus or end with Newton, that took the ancient world seriously and didn’t forget that geology is a science, and that allowed the development of method and theory in the history of science to emerge in context. So we painstakingly began piecing one together, using existing course materials, things we had read in graduate school, and recommendations from colleagues. We have continued to bring about fifty students a year through our program. Over the years we have continued to make changes, removing things that didn’t work, adding material to cover a wider and more interesting array of topics, cutting readings that were too long, and expanding those that didn’t cover enough.
The readings, cut for brevity and intelligibility, are accompanied by discussion questions at the end of each reading and suggestions for further reading at the end of each section. The texts are not arranged purely chronologically but grouped into sections arranged by topic and thematic unity to help clarify the development of disciplines, methods, and the unification of theories. The section divisions also allow instructors focusing their course on the Copernican revolution or the background to Darwinian evolution to point students to just those sections relevant for the class. Other texts of this kind tend to focus more narrowly, for example, on mechanics and astronomy, neglecting the material in Parts I, IV, and V of our collection. Moreover, they tend to shift from reading scientific texts to philosophy of science texts at the end of the seventeenth century. By focusing on the most accessible selections from the primary source materials, this collection remains focused on the scientists themselves. These readings show natural philosophers having lively discussions about religion and race, politics and patronage. Real, colorful, flesh-and-blood people emerge in these pages—authors struggling to learn how to learn about the natural world. Their writings contain dissent and disdain, humor and scathing criticism, arrogance and humility—all in the context of natural philosophy.
The selections in Part I, “The Birth of Natural Philosophy: Science and Mathematics in the Ancient Hellenistic World,” present the development of several branches of science in antiquity, attending to the theories of matter, motion, life, mathematics, and cosmology that shaped the Western scientific tradition.
Part II, “Translation, Appropriation, and Critical Engagement: Science in the Roman and Medieval Islamic and European Worlds,” reflects both the extent to which the ancient worldview was adopted and developed in the medieval Islamic and European worlds, and the degree to which this work influenced and inspired the revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Part III, “Revolutions in Astronomy and Mechanics: From Copernicus to Newton,” contains the critique of Aristotelian theory and development of methods, instruments, and techniques that led to profound, worldview shifting revolutions in astronomy and mechanics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Part IV, “Investigating the Invisible: Light, Electricity, and Magnetism,” presents controversies over the particle and wave theories of light, important milestones in investigations of the nature of electricity and magnetism, and the stunning theoretical unification of all three of these phenomena in the work of Faraday and Maxwell.
Part V, “Elements in Transition: Chemistry, Air, Atoms, and Heat,” explores the shift from alchemical work to modern chemistry, including the identification of different kinds of air, important steps in the development of the periodic table of elements, the analysis of heat in terms of molecular motion rather than as a caloric fluid, and the emergence of thermodynamics.
Part VI, “The Earth and All Its Creatures: Developments in Geology and Biology,” focuses on the extraordinary theoretical and experimental developments in biology, geology, and anthropology, from Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood through Lyell’s uniformitarian geology.
Part VII, “The Emergence of Evolution: Darwin and His Interlocutors,” focuses on Darwinian evolution, with selections from both the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man as well as both critical and supportive responses to Darwin’s work from his contemporaries.
We envision careful reading and discussion of these texts giving rise to a rich set of historical and philosophical conversations that help students to understand key scientific ideas, to explore the social and cultural context in which they emerge, and to reflect on their significance.
|January 18, 2018
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