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NATS 1760 Lecture Notes - Ancient Greek Philosophy, Natural Philosophy, Plough

Natural Science
Course Code
NATS 1760
Vera Pavri

of 9
NATS 1760 Lecture 3b Medieval Science and Technology in Europe
I. Medieval Science
-Dark ages reference to medieval age is because (1) china/Islamic time interest in science while
medieval weren’t (2) Problem: The dark ages is only describing the beginning of the behaviour
-Early medieval Europe science was not widely regarded
-carefully examine material in light of themes: continuity/discontinuity in scientific thought (hint:
translation); science and religion (theology); science in cross-cultural contexts
-many early leaders hostile towards scientific inquiries
-St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) argues against natural philosophy; viewed Greek philosophers
(Aristotle and Plato) as Pagans; view away from God.
-early Christians: mixed feelings towards Greeks
-thought they were pagans but had knowledge of use to Church (literacy and bookkeeping)
-In 6th and 7th centuries Europeans had limited knowledge of Greek texts (Many believe this
knowledge was lost; as a result reference to dark ages)
-by 9th century, new inquiries possible as Europeans come into greater contact with work of
Islamic scholars (logic, mathematics, medicine, alchemy, astrology, optics)
-not just preservation of knowledge; these scholars had expanded on works of Greeks
-By 9th century transition takes place in Europe
-successive invasions make life difficult in Europe
-pursuit of knowledge no longer top priority
-Greek texts survive in East; later translated
-Church teachings mixture of natural philosophy and spirituality
-mixture of Christian and Aristotelian ideas
-interest in intellectual activities come with reign of Charlemagne (742-814)
-wanted to recapture glory of Rome
-better system of law, increased military, public works, better churches
-greater interest in education reforms: cathedral and monastery schools produce more learned
-Alcuin (735-804) and new curriculum based on seven liberal arts
-trivium: logic, grammar and rhetoric
-quadrivium: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy and music
II. The Crusades :11 th
-Greater communication between Islamic knowledge
-crusades begin in 1095 and brought Europeans into greater contact with outside world
-trading of goods and ideas
-fall of Constantinople in brings refugees from east to Western Europe
-they have manuscripts and knowledge of Greeks
III. The Rise of Universities
-universities founded in 12th century
-coincides with growth of cities and increased wealth brought about by Agriculture Revolution
(see below)
-Agriculture Revolution: response to rising populations between 600-1000
-University of Bologna in 1158
-intellectual space in which scholars could study both Christian theology and natural philosophy
-universities able to grant degrees and did not fall under town control; relatively autonomous
-natural knowledge as path to salvation
-scholars had place to live, work, debate, study manuscripts
-Fall of Muslim city Toledo to Christians in 1085- major center for translation
-translate Arabic manuscripts into Latin – school of translation place where work of Ptolemy
rediscovered in 1175
-alchemy reintroduced by to Europe by Robert of Chester in 1144
IV. Natural Philosophy and Christianity
-a lot of Greek texts recovered by 1200
-mixed reaction to revival of Greek texts
-Aristotelian ideas seen as especially dangerous since many of his ideas contradict Church
-in 1210, University of Paris banned his work on natural philosophy (faculty of Theology versus
-banning of Aristotelian ideas makes people more eager to study it; Pope Gregory forced to
review Aristotle’s ideas and reconcile them to church
-by 1255, Aristotle’s work now required knowledge; he becomes known as “the philosopher”
-merging of Christian theology and Greek philosophy
-Robert Grosseteste (1168-1263): God created world but Aristotle might be right about
composition of matter
-believed in experimentation (unlike Aristotle)
-Albertus Magnus (1206-1280): use natural philosophy to confirm superiority of Church
-Roger Bacon (1214-94): investigation of nature through alchemy, astrology; wrote of
technological wonders like gunpowder, self-propelling ships, submarines, airplanes
-Thomas Aquinas (1225-74): Greek knowledge useful for grasping certain kinds of knowledge
-Aristotelian ideas used to complement Christian theology
-Great Chain of Being
-Church compartmentalizes Aristotelian knowledge: ideas about perfect heavens correct and
worth reconciling to Christian thought; ideas about theology, politics, etc… should be
-in this sense, if Aristotelian ideas do not merge well with theology, they are dismissed (world is
eternal, no creation, human soul not immortal, limits of Divine)
-reconciling ideas not without its problems: Condemnation of 1277
-theologians versus philosophers
-Bishop of Paris condemns teaching of 219 “errors” in Aristotelian work
-several ways of looking at this:
-a. natural philosophy truly subordinate to theology
-b. effects of this overstated: condemnation only lasts for a few decades and did not really take
off elsewhere
-c. beneficial in long run: allowed medieval scholars to move away from Aristotelian doctrines
and come up with alternative ways of solving problems
-as long as scientific hypothesis did not interfere with theology or as long as they were thought
of as intellectual exercises, individuals free to come with number of thought experiments
-by 14th century there is merging of Aristotelian and Christian ideas; Aristotle now authority on
many subjects
-harmonizing natural philosophy and religion
V. Medieval Challenges to Aristotle
-praise Aristotle and then criticize him for one aspect of system that needed some “revisions” or
was something he never covered
-optics, motion, causality
-physics: Jean Buridan (c. 1300-1358), Nicole Oresme (c. 1320-1382)
-Ockham’s Razor: adding arguments to explanation of problem is not useful; better to go for
simplest explanation
VI. Black Death (the Plague)
-came to Europe from China in 1347
-killed almost 25M in five years and coincided with 100 Years’ War
-end of medieval Europe (hardly anyone left!)
-new possibilities emerge: more land, riches, luxury goods
-create demand for items that will aid trade: better astronomy and tools for navigation;
improved mathematics, geography and cartography
VII. Medieval Attitudes towards Technology
-distinct views of technology developed within medieval intellectual tradition; one that we will
examine closely today involves linking technical arts with religious salvation
-idea that technical arts could lead to religious salvation first proposed by Hugh of St. Victor
around 1140 AD who saw the mechanical arts as “part of man’s religious and philosophical
-St. Victor saw mechanical arts as a branch of knowledge that paralleled theoretical knowledge
and practical arts
-Theoretical knowledge was a remedy for ignorance; practical knowledge a remedy for vice and
the mechanical arts a remedy for physical weakness
-Pursuing any of these kinds of knowledge would contribute to man’s rise from his fallen state
(i.e. Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, etc…) and would lead to religious salvation
-Different ideas about how influential St. Victor’s views were
-Some scholars have argued that although Latin Christian thought did encourage an exploitative
attitude towards the natural world and was “sympathetic” to technological advance in Middle
Ages, this view of technology was not to be found in most philosophical circles
-Thus more positive attitudes towards technology found in artisan monk and laboring classes as
opposed to medieval philosophers who continued to reject the importance of the technical arts
-In treatises written by these philosophers, the mechanical arts continued to be subordinate to
all other sciences
-This was because the mechanical arts were preoccupied with the body and material world
-crafts therefore were considered “unworthy, servile or vulgar”
-Aristotle’s views on technology greatly influenced many of these medieval philosophers: he
believed that technical arts or craftwork was “base” and that this kind of knowledge was
inferior to theoretical knowledge because former dealt with particular or specific kinds of
information while theoretical info was more universalistic and could be applied to all
-Some philosophers influenced by Arab tradition did give mechanical arts a higher status but on
the whole, during this time the technical arts remained subordinate to natural philosophy
VIII. European Technology in the Middle Ages
-while many technical advances “lost” in Middle Ages, European innovation came with new
agricultural techniques and energy sources
-Europe had an “Agricultural Revolution” between 600-1000 AD where its population rose
almost 30%
-This came as a result of new technological innovations which allowed for a greater agricultural
-In Europe, land is very scarce; land used for everything and use of wood for fuel makes it even
more of a precious commodity
-Most land that was cultivated in Europe at this time was done by a light plow where only 2-3
oxen used
-Major change came with invention of heavy plow which used up to 8 oxen; this allowed heavier,
richer land (soil) to be cultivated for farming
-Europe also started importing crops from “new world” like potatoes, maize
-At this time, also see substitution of horse for ox as draft animal (horses could move faster and
for longer periods of time than oxen); horse collar