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The Nature of Natural Philosophy in the Late Middle Ages (Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, Volume 52)

The Nature of Natural Philosophy in the Late Middle Ages (Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, Volume 52)

Edward Grant
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  • Book Info
    The Nature of Natural Philosophy in the Late Middle Ages (Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, Volume 52)
    Book Description:

    In this volume, distinguished scholar Edward Grant identifies the vital elements that contributed to the creation of a widespread interest in natural philosophy, which has been characterized as the "Great Mother of the Sciences."

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1817-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. 1 When Did Modern Science Begin?
    (pp. 1-15)

    Although science has a long history with roots in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it is indisputable that modern science emerged in Western Europe and nowhere else. The reasons for this momentous occurrence must therefore be sought in some unique set of circumstances that differentiate Western society from other contemporary and earlier civilizations. The establishment of science as a basic enterprise within a society depends on more than expertise in technical scientific subjects, experiments, and disciplined observations. After all, science can be found in many early societies. In Islam, until approximately 1500, mathematics, astronomy, geometric optics, and medicine were more highly...

  2. 2 Science and the Medieval University
    (pp. 16-48)

    Prior to the monumental research on medieval science by Pierre Duhem in the first two decades of this century,¹ the title of this essay would have evoked laughter and/or scorn. Any juxtaposition of the terms “science” and “medieval” would have been thought a contradiction in terms. Since Duhem’s time, however, and largely because of him and a series of brilliant successors, we have grown accustomed to the concept of medieval science, which has even developed into a significant research field. But now that historians of science have grown accustomed to the idea that there was indeed science in the Middle...

  3. 3 The Condemnation of 1277, God’s Absolute Power, and Physical Thought in the Late Middle Ages
    (pp. 49-90)

    When Christianity manifested its earliest concern about the physical world, it did so in an atmosphere of fear and hostility toward Greek science and philosophy. Deeply suspicious of these pagan enterprises, the Church Fathers and Christian authors of late antiquity grudgingly came to tolerate them as handmaidens to theology. In time, however, interest in scientific and philosophic thought for their own sake gradually developed. Already evident in the late eleventh century, it is clearly manifested by the prodigious translating activity of the twelfth century, by the close of which the basic intellectual fare for the next four centuries had become...

  4. 4 God, Science, and Natural Philosophy in the Late Middle Ages
    (pp. 91-118)

    Andrew Cunningham and Roger French have made important and provocative claims about natural philosophy and science to which I should like to reply.¹ The major claim asserts that the object of natural philosophy as a discipline was the study of God’s creation and God’s attributes. So powerful was this objective, that Cunningham proclaims that natural philosophy was not just “about God” and His creation at those moments when natural philosophers were explicitly talking or writing about God in their natural philosophical works or activities. It was, by contrast, “about God” and His creation the whole time.²

    Cunningham acknowledges that he...

  5. 5 Medieval Departures from Aristotelian Natural Philosophy
    (pp. 119-139)

    Departures from the specific ideas expressed in Aristotle’s natural works occurred during the whole span of Aristotle’s dominance in European thought. In a recent article, I sought to illustrate the manner in which early modern, or Renaissance, Scholastic natural philosophers abandoned aspects of Aristotelian cosmology that had been accepted in the late Middle Ages. I argued that the departures from medieval cosmology derived from “new external challenges to the Aristotelian system that began to take effect in the sixteenth century.”¹ It did not, however, appear to me that early modern, or Renaissance, Scholastics were therefore more innovative or imaginative than...

  6. 6 God and the Medieval Cosmos
    (pp. 140-162)

    It seems appropriate to begin a lecture on “God and the Medieval Cosmos” with the creation of the world. Since modern cosmologists grapple with problems about the formation of our universe—how old it is, how long it took to form our solar system, and similar questions—I shall first describe medieval views about the time it took God to form our world. On this issue, it was apparent early on that Scripture posed a potentially serious dilemma by virtue of two seemingly conflicting statements, one in Genesis, the other in Ecclesiasticus. In Genesis, we are told of a creation...

  7. 7 Scientific Imagination in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 163-194)

    Following Aristotle, medieval natural philosophers believed that knowledge was ultimately based on perception and observation; and like Aristotle, they also believed that observation could not explain the “why” of any perception. To arrive at the “why,” natural philosophers offered theoretical explanations that required the use of the imagination. This was, however, only the starting point. Not only did they apply their imaginations to real phenomena, but expended even more intellectual energy on counterfactual phenomena, both extra cosmic and intra cosmic, extensively discussing, among other themes, the possible existence of other worlds and the possibility of an infinite extra cosmic space....

  8. 8 Medieval Natural Philosophy: Empiricism without Observation
    (pp. 195-224)

    In his splendid book The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, H. Floris Cohen identifies the major issues that historians of science have emphasized in distinguishing between natural philosophy in the Middle Ages and natural philosophy in the seventeenth century.¹ During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was customary “to contrast the ‘empiricism’ of the new science with the sterile a priori reasoning taken to be characteristic of previous philosophies of nature, in particular Aristotle’s.” This interpretation was largely abandoned in the twentieth century when “it was discovered how deeply the empirical fact had gone into the making, not only of...

  9. 9 Science and Theology in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 225-252)

    Science and theology were never more closely interrelated than during the Latin Middle Ages in Western Europe. In this occasionally stormy relationship, theology was clearly the dominant partner. Limited challenges to that dominance occurred only when a sufficiently powerful natural philosophy was available to offer alternative interpretations of cosmic structure and operation. Conflict between science and theology rarely arose in the technical sciences, but developed in that part of natural philosophy concerned with the larger principles of cosmic operation, especially where theology and science sought to explain the same phenomena.¹ Prior to the twelfth century, when the scientific fare of...

  10. 10 The Fate of Ancient Greek Natural Philosophy in the Middle Ages: Islam and Western Christianity
    (pp. 253-275)

    The enduring impact of ancient Greek science and natural philosophy on the civilizations of Islam and Latin Christianity is one of the great success stories in the history of the world. The successful transmission of Greek science into Arabic and then of Greek and Arabic science into Latin compels us to speak of “Greco-Islamic-Latin” science in the Middle Ages. It was Greco-Islamic-Latin science and natural philosophy that unquestionably set the stage for the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, which would otherwise have been impossible. The transmittal of science and natural philosophy from Greek to Arabic and from Greek and...

  11. 11 What Was Natural Philosophy in the Late Middle Ages?
    (pp. 276-311)

    If by natural philosophy we understand everything relevant to nature and natural phenomena, it seems plausible to infer that the subject matter of natural philosophy embraces all inquiries and questions about the physical world. The first humans must have been aware of nature, which was all around them and involved in everything they did. Nature was not invented. It was a given.¹ Long before the Greeks, the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia had already learned much about nature and its actions. But the ancient Greeks brought something new to the study of nature: they invented instructive ways of talking...

  12. 12 Aristotelianism and the Longevity of the Medieval Worldview
    (pp. 312-326)

    As the dominant intellectual system for the interpretation of the physical world, Aristotelianism endured for some four hundred and fifty years from the time of its reception in the Latin West at the end of the twelfth century to its general abandonment between 1600 and 1650. Why and how did it survive for so long? What was there about medieval Aristotelian Scholasticism that won it the allegiance of so many generations of students and scholars? At first glance, it would appear that historians of medieval science, and of medieval thought in general, would have placed the survival of Aristotelianism in...