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scientific revolution


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Herbert Butterfield called attention in 1948 to the tremendous intellectual change he saw taking place during the 17th cent., when the modern scientific world‐view was propounded by Francis Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and their disciples. This change was reflected in institutions, notably the Royal Society and the Paris Academy of Sciences, and in publications—especially journals.

Butterfield had seen one revolution, but it might be that science has had several. Thus we have revolutions associated with Galileo, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and perhaps Michael Faraday, Freud, J. J. Thomson, and Einstein.

Studies of the 19th cent. indicate how many elements of modern science we owe to that epoch rather than to an earlier period, and may make us wonder if it was not the Age of Science, or the period when science began to revolutionize everyday life. The Royal Society was joined in 1831 by the more open and democratic British Association for the Advancement of Science, promoting public awareness and local pride. It had earlier been joined by specialized societies dedicated to natural history, geology, and astronomy; and later to chemistry, statistics, and physics. Education began to divide the scientists (a word coined by William Whewell in 1833) from humanists; and as the former divided into chemists and physicists, and then further into organic or physical chemists, so the latter began taking degrees in history or English.

Exponential growth also became evident in the 19th cent., so the question whether there was one scientific revolution or many, or evolution, is open. Clearly, science has been developing in ways that Bacon could only have dreamed of, and it has transformed the way we see the world.

Subjects: British History — Science and Mathematics.


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