Animal Lives by Marcia S. Freeman

By Marcia S. Freeman

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The Science of Nature in the Seventeenth Century: Patterns of Change in Early Modern Natural Philosophy

The 17th century marked a severe part within the emergence of recent technology. yet we misunderstand this strategy, if we think that seventeenth-century modes of typical inquiry have been similar to the hugely specialized, professionalised and ever proliferating family members of recent sciences practised this day.

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So, in conclusion, let me foreshadow how the analytic framework proceeds for the remainder of the seventeenth century. During the 1640s and early 1650s, an already brewing crisis of legitimacy became more and more manifest, but thanks in part to certain big-world events (notably, consequences of the Peace of Westphalia), the next generation managed to survive that crisis and turn the tables, so as to preserve and also extend by big steps the achievement of the pioneers. Among the principal components of this story are (1) the operation of such feedback mechanisms as made possible sustained advance in the universe of mathematical precision, in particular; (2) the partial yet, as such, unprecedented breakdown of barriers between modes of nature-knowledge; (3) the concoction, in Britain particularly, of a Baconian ideology bent on celebrating the still largely imaginary utility of the new science as such, while giving religious sanction to it; (4) three further revolutionary transformations, one (4a) effected by Huygens and young Newton in attempted fusions between elements of the Galilean and the Cartesian legacies, one (4b) effected by Boyle, Hooke, and young Newton in attempted fusions between elements of the Baconian and the Cartesian/Gassendist legacies, one (4c) effected by mature Newton alone.

The perceived similarity of such efforts to what Kepler and Galileo were doing was sufficient to make both men enjoy the support of mathematical Jesuits like Guldin or Clavius, respectively (until, for essentially personal reasons, the order turned against Galileo). To us the difference far outweighs the similarity, thanks to our hindsight derived in part from a host of contemporary misunderstandings. Indeed it may be doubted whether this fourth propitious factor contributed more than a little—mostly by enhancing somewhat Galileo’s realist bent—to the transformation of the Alexandrian legacy.

SCHUSTER Figure 1. After Descartes, Le Monde, AT, XI, p. 45 and p. 85. As corpuscles undergo instantaneous collisions with each other, their quantities of force of motion and determinations are adjusted according to certain universal laws of nature, rules of collision. Therefore Descartes’ analysis focuses on instantaneous tendencies to motion, rather than finite translations in space and time. Indeed, Descartes offers a metaphysical account of translation which dissolves it into a series of inclinations to motion exercised in consecutive instants of time at consecutive points in space.

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