Juriaen Pool II, Two Members of the Surgeons’ Guild

Philosophy and the Scientific Revolution

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
The Workmen’s Circle
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018

Long before the development of modern academic and scientific disciplines, the early modern scientific revolution was exemplified by “natural philosophers”—polymaths like Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes who saw no clear distinction between philosophical, scientific, social, and other forms of inquiry. The scientific revolution, born partly from the insights they provided, was also a philosophical revolution, ushering in new ideas about the role of humanity in the natural world. From the inception of Greek philosophy, the scientific task of understanding and explaining “nature” had meant revealing the hidden system of interlinked functions and purposes that gave nature as a whole meaning and direction. In contrast, the natural philosophers proposed a radically different system in which nature was not merely to be understood, but mastered for the sake of human progress. What was the relationship between the scientific and philosophical foundations of the “scientific revolution”?

In this class, we will explore the development of early modern philosophy and its relation to scientific change. How and why did the very concept of what nature is undergo a fundamental alteration in this period? Did the scientific revolution essentially drive the modern philosophic revolution, or was the inverse true as well? We will be particularly interested in trying to understand the ways in which this modern philosophical re-founding of science influenced or even enabled the subsequent technological developments of the industrial revolution. Was the philosophical revolution essential to the development of what became capitalism? What role did philosophy play in the development of what sociologist Max Weber called the “disenchantment of the world,” fating us to live in “godless and prophetless times”? We’ll read selections from Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Newton, as well as the later probabilistic thinking of David Hume, in an attempt to better understand the philosophical foundations of scientific inquiry and the role the scientific revolution played in transforming philosophy and even society itself.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
April 05 — April 26, 2018
4 weeks


Registration Open