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The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution


Author: David Wootton

Publisher: Harper Perennial


Publish Date: December 13, 2016

ISBN-10: 61759538

Pages: 784

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Modern science was invented between 1572, when Tycho Brahe saw a nova, or new star, and 1704, when Newton published his Opticks, which demonstrated that white light is made up of light of all the colours of the rainbow, that you can split it into its component colours with a prism, and that colour inheres in light, not in objects.1 There were systems of knowledge we call ‘sciences’ before 1572, but the only one which functioned remotely like a modern science, in that it had sophisticated theories based on a substantial body of evidence and could make reliable predictions, was astronomy, and it was astronomy that was transformed in the years after 1572 into the first true science. What made astronomy in the years after 1572 a science? It had a research programme, a community of experts, and it was prepared to question every long-established certainty (that there can be no change in the heavens, that all movement in the heavens is circular, that the heavens consist of crystalline spheres) in the light of new evidence. Where astronomy led, other new sciences followed.

To establish this claim it is necessary to look not only at what happened between 1572 and 1704 but also to look backwards, at the world before 1572, and forwards, at the world after 1704; it is also necessary to address some methodological debates. Chapters 6 to 12, which deal with the core period 1572 to 1704, constitute the main body of this book; Chapters 3, 4 and 5 look primarily at the world before 1572, and Chapters 13 and 14 at the world both somewhat before and somewhat after 1704. Chapters 2, 15, 16 and 17 deal with historiography, methodology and philosophy.

The two chapters of the Introduction lay the foundations for everything that follows. The first chapter briefly suggests what the book is about. The second explains where the idea of ‘the Scientific Revolution’ comes from, why some think there was no such thing, and why it is a sound category for historical analysis.

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