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SC NATS 1760 Medieval Science and Technology in Europe

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York University
Natural Science
NATS 1760
Vera Pavri

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 6 and 7 centuries Europeans had limited knowledge of Greek texts (Many believe this knowlthge was lost; as a result reference to dark ages) - by 9 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 9 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 priests - 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 century - 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 12 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 1 - 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 Arts) - 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 disregarded - 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 14 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) 2 - 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 quest” - 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 phenomena - 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 surplus - 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 3 - One major agricultural innovation included development of a 3-field rotation system for planting crops (production went from 33% to 50%) as opposed to 2 field system - With development of heavy plow, etc…, there is a rise in communal agriculture as most individuals could not afford to go at it alone - Medieval villages thus had form of collective ownership, communal agriculture - Use of horses allowed villages to grow; see rise of cathedral building and first universities constructed at this time - Medieval culture consists of lords, ladies, knights, etc… - Along with these agricultural developments there are other important technical innovations - Chinese invention of stirrup (5 century) came to Europe by about 8 century: prior to invention, most battles fought on ground; men would dismount from horses to engage in combat - With stirrup, no longer had to get off horse to fight - New energy sources also include increased use of waterwheels and windmills; helped power sawmills, flour mills, etc… and this increased agricultural and material production - Machinery could be found in most villages; people became more familiar with the technology - Slavery versus labor saving machines argument - Black Death in Europe between 1347-48 wiped out 1/3 of population - By 14 century, there is rise in use of military technologies: adoption of gunpowder, manufacturing of guns (musket introduced in 1550’s) and cannons meant decline of “knight in shining armor” - Military technology greatly financed by state or royal treasuries; for example, French in latter th half of 15 century went from producing 20000 pounds to 500000 pounds of gunpowder - The role of military technology and the rise of nation-states will be further discussed next class IX. The Mechanical Clock - Mechanical clock one of the first technologies to be made entirely out of metal; its importance in our society today cannot be underestimated - examining the origins and spread of mechanical clock allows us to examine some important themes related to this course including the “economic needs” argument as well as cross- cultural comparisons of technological use 1. Origins of the Mechanical Clock a. Uncertain Past - difficult to pinpoint exact date of when the mechanical clock was invented or who developed it; 1272-1330 is the general timeframe - one reason for this: language- in medieval times, term “horologia” refers to all time-keeping devices including water clocks (clepsydra), sundials, bells- thus early on no distinguished term for mechanical clock - word “clock”- cloche- meaning bell - many of these devices had their origins outside Europe such as China b. Historical Background of the Mechanical Clock - many historians have disputed the origins of the mechanical clock- much of this had to do with its uncertain background - over time- what has developed are two major schools of thought about the origins of the mechanical clock: one that sees the mechanical clock as part of a continuous tradition of time- keepers and time indicators such as sundials, water clocks, bell ringing mechanisms versus one that sees the mechanical clock as a simpler branch of a more complicated technology (astrolabes ) 4 - most historians have adopted the first tradition, the second is worth discussing because it touches upon two important facets of the history of technology: cultural disputes about the paternity of an invention, the idea of technical (stimulus) diffusion c. The Price / Needham Thesis also called “fallen angel thesis” - Derick Price and Joseph Needham are two historians who contend that the mechanical clock is a degenerate “fallen angel” of more complicated technical devices such as the astrolabe - Fallen
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