Intro & Lecture 1 - Mechanism

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University of Toronto St. George
History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
Chen- Pang Yeang

HPS211 Intro & Lecture 1 MAY15/2012 Introduction - 4 Chronological Division: th 1. Age of Reason (18 c.) 2. High Modernity (19 c.)th 3. Turn of the century (late 19 to mid-20 c.) th 4. The world we live in (after WWII) - Russo-French scholar, Alexandre Koyré, popularized the term “Scientific Revolution” in 1939  The term was originally referred to a disruptive change in science during the 16 -17 c. th  “Scientific Revolution” includes Copernicus, Gilbert, Bacon, Harvey, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, etc. - In 1962, American philosopher Thomas Kuhn extended the term to disruptive changes in science in general  Scientists experienced a paradigm shift during the revolution  Knowledge not accumulated incrementally - Thomas Kuhn’s framework serves as a useful reminder that knowledge did not accumulate incrementally Lecture 1: Mechanism - Predecessor to science: Natural Philosophy  It is the study of nature’s laws, causes, regularities I. Aristotelian Natural Philosophy - Dominant form of Natural Philosophy developed by Aristotle (4 c. BCE, Greece) called Aristotelian Philosophy  Aristotelian Philosophy supported by all the medieval and renaissance scholars in Europe and in the Islamic World  Aristotle founded the basic form of many branches of philosophy such as ethics and metaphysics  Systematic naturalist: Keen observer of nature, interest in zoological + botanical phenomenon  Aristotle wanted to establish a conceptual foundation for everything that we can conceived in this world, both in the physical world and manual world; So the Aristotelian system is basically a system of everything (?) - Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy’s aim is to explain, to find the causes of natural phenomenon  To do that, he believed that everything in nature has a set of “essences” – every object in nature has some essential/intrinsic properties that are important to determine the characteristics of a thing  Essences relate to the constitutive elements (fire, air, water and earth) – how much the combination of this 4 elements determines the different essences of an object (i.e. if an object is made mostly of rock, then this object’s essence is earth-like)  “Actual” vs. “Potential” essences: not all essences in an object are expressed explicitly; some essences are hidden/not ripe yet but when the time comes, those essences will get expressed/revealed. “Potential” essences – inherent in the object but has not yet been expressed  The most important thing to explain in the natural world is to explain change – ONLY change requires an explanation  Change occurs when potential essences are realized; Toward “natural” positions of essences  As if the thing has a purpose  teleological explanation (ex. “nature abhors vacuum,” object falls onto ground, seed grows into plant  Metaphor: nature as a living being with intention - Doctrines of Aristotelian philosophy accepted by Catholic Church and was taught at universities  pillar of intellectual academia - Increasing dissatisfaction since the 16 c. th  Starting from the 17 c. – beginning of the Scientific revolution – the new generation of natural philosophers thought nature as a “machine” ~ nature not just a living being with purpose, but like a clock – a machine governed by mechanical relationship of different components  Replaced the metaphor of living organism with nonliving machines  Came to be called MECHANICAL PHILOSOPHY II. Mechanical Philosophy in the 17 c.h - Main advocator of Methanical philosophy was a French mathematician, Rene Descartes - René Descartes, 17 c. French scholar and lived most of his life outside France in the Netherlands (Holland) and last few years of his life in Sweden  Famous for founding of the Modern Western Philosophy  Contributed in mathematics, esp. mathematical analysis  Highly dissatisfied with the Aristotelian philosophy, and strongly believed that nature should be thought of as a machine - Cartesian Mechanical Philosophy  The goal of natural philosophy is to find the ultimate causes and ultimate explanations of natural phenomenon – ultimate as in the last explanation, no further explanation to support/clarify – SIMILAR to ARISTOTLE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY  Nature is not just a living being with a purpose, rather it is like a clock – DIFFERENT from ARISTOTLE’S NATURAL PHILOSOPHY.  In order for us to understand how the whole system works, we must first understand how the different components work and their relationship with other parts, and etc.  Advocated for the “rational method” – a method for philosophical investigation – Picture attained by the “rational method”  Based on a few philosophical principles that (he believed) we cannot deny: (1) extension (space) is an attribute of substance  plenism  To Descartes, always associate space with object; he believed that there is no empty space and the all the universe is filled with objects/entity  Plenism gave a boost to Descartes Mechanical Philosophy  all parts of nature interconnected with one another through contact
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