Richard S. Westfall
History of Science Society Newsletter, Volume 15, No. 3 (July 1986)
© 1989 by the History of Science Society, All rights reserved


Without exception, in my experience, every historian of science looks upon his discipline as a branch of history, not fundamentally different from the well-established and well-accepted subdiscipline of intellectual history, and pursued in the variety of ways, now with attention focused on the scientific content, now on the social context, familiar among intellectual historians. In the development of the discipline the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the years from Copernicus to Newton, have been as important as they were in the development of science itself. Among historians of science. They are almost universally known as the Scientific Revolution, because the fundamental changes they instituted in the conception of nature and the procedures of scientific inquiry effectively terminated a tradition in natural philosophy that stemmed from Aristotle and marked the birth of modern science. The history of science was largely created as an intellectual discipline through the study of this period.

The men who created the Scientific Revolution were convinced that they were participating in a major upheaval of human thought. The philosophes of the Enlightenment were equally convinced. They chose their heroes from the leaders of the Scientific Revolution, and they looked upon the period as the crucial turning point in history, when the first dawning of reason began to dispel the clouds of ignorance. Some of the fundamental books in the history of science, works that specialists in such areas as the history of mathematics and the history of astronomy cannot afford to ignore, were written during the eighteenth century, and since that time there has been a continuing tradition of scholarship on the Scientific Revolution. Only in our own time, since the World War II, however, has the history of science become a recognized academic field with organized programs in universities and a population of historians of science multiplying almost as rapidly as scientists themselves. As the discipline has turned increasingly toward topics more recent than the seventeenth century, it has been able to draw upon the conceptual categories and the research techniques developed initially in the study of the Scientific Revolution. For example, Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1962), a book that has been influential outside the history of science as well as inside it, drew heavily upon the concept of the scientific revolution for its general theory that the course of science has proceeded, not by gradual accretion of increments of knowledge, but by discontinuous transformations of the perception of nature. Hence the period that was seminal in the growth of modern science has been equally seminal in the growth of the history of science.

In this essay I have entirely omitted the early works, which were frequently addressed to a technically sophisticated audience. I understand myself to be writing for a different audience, not only historians of science, but also general historians engaged for the most part in teaching Western history and concerned to include some treatment of the Scientific Revolution. I want to express my passionate desire to speak to this audience successfully. The Scientific Revolution was the most important "event" in Western history, and a historical discipline that ignores it must have taken an unhappy step in the direction of antiquarianism. For good and for ill, science stands at the center of every dimension of modern life. It has shaped most of the categories in terms of which we think, and in the process has frequently Subverted humanistic concepts that furnished the sinews of our civilization. Through its influence on technology, it has helped to lift the burden of poverty from much of the Western world, but in doing so has accelerated our exploitation of the world's finite resources until already, not so long after the birth of modern science, We fear with good cause their exhaustion. Through its transformation of medicine, science has removed the constant presence of illness and pain, but it has also produced toxic materials that poison the environment and weapons that threaten us with extinction. It should be obvious that I consider some of the items on that list desirable and some highly undesirable. I am convinced that the list describes a large part of the reality of the late twentieth century and that nothing on it is thinkable without the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Jacques Barzun, Science: The Glorious Entertainment (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), offers a statement, which no one would describe as uncritical admiration, of the impact of science on the modern intellect. Science and the Modem Mind: A Symposium, edited by Gerald Holton (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), contains a number of papers on the same theme that are happier with the scientific enterprise. There must be hundreds of other books devoted to similar themes, but I have yet to see the work that presents, in one integrated argument, the full position I just sketched so briefly, the position that offers the ultimate justification for the inclusion of the history of science prominently in any academic course that presumes to explain the origins of the world in which we live. Allow me to say, without excessive drama, that if I can encourage even a few historians to include more adequate treatment of the Scientific Revolution in their courses, so that students will emerge with a better appreciation of how we got where we are, I will have achieved what I hoped for with this teaching guide.

With the above ends in view, and wanting to raise as few obstacles as possible to a reader seeking a ready introduction to the field rather than the latest conclusions for the specialist, I have limited the bibliography to works in the English language (including a number not published originally in English), and I have tried to omit the most specialized works that were written in the first instance for other scholars. I have marked a few of the books with an asterisk before the name of the author to indicate works whose level seems to me most adapted for use with an undergraduate audience. Those inclined to look further can easily find more detailed bibliographies in the books listed here and in the most recent general histories of the Scientific Revolution. As I am writing, A. R. Hall, The Revolution in Science (London: Longmans, 1983), a revision of his earlier Scientific Revolution (London: Longmans, Green, 1954), thoroughly rewritten to incorporate the considerable scholarship published after the earlier work, contains the most up-to-date bibliography available. For information on leading scientists of the period, consult the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles C. Gillispie, 16 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1970-1980). Each article in the DSB concludes with a bibliography. My list does not venture far into the enormous quantity of journal literature, but Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, annually publishes an exhaustive Critical Bibliography. Critical Bibliographies for the earlier years have been collected in five volumes and indexed under a variety of headings in Isis Cumulative Bibliography 1913-65, edited by Magda Whitrow (London: Mansell, 1971-1982) supplementary volumes covering subsequent ten-year periods are being edited by John Neu (1966-75, Mansell, 1980, 1985).

There is one other prefatory comment that I must make. Historians of science often distinguish between what they call internal and external history of science, history of science that focuses on the internal development of a system of thought about nature, and history of science that focuses on the external context within which nature is studied. Analogous distinctions exist, I believe, in every form of intellectual history. There is a growing consensus that the distinction between the two schools has frequently been overdrawn. Internal historians of science do not deny the obvious truth that an activity carried on by individuals living in society has a valid social history, and external historians of science do not deny that the content of science is an essential part of the story. George Basalla, editor, The Rise of Modern Science: Extemal or Internal Factors (Lexington, Mass: Heath, 1968), a volume in the Problems in European Civilization series, presents a summary of the debate on this issue. Although it is my goal in this bibliography not to introduce ideological factors, any selective list of books is bound to reflect the outlook of the person who compiled it. Let me then state that until recently I have pursued my career as an historian of science almost entirely within the internal school, and the bibliography I present inevitably contains the books that have appeared most important to me. Let me add that in the development of the discipline, internal history of science came first. With a few notable exceptions, works on the external history of the scientific revolution have been more recent and are therefore fewer. If books on history of scientific ideas predominate in my list, their numbers on library shelves do seem greater to me in roughly the same proportion.


Over half a century ago, E. A. Burtt wrote one of the books that helped to revise our understanding of the Scientific Revolution, treating it not as a set of empirical discoveries, but as a reformulation of basic philosophical assumptions about the nature of physical reality--The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1925). A decade and a half after Burtt's book, Alexandre Koyré's epochal Galileo Studies (1939) (trans. John Mepham; Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978) appeared. More than any other work, this book shaped the modern discipline of the history of science, as it moved several steps further in the direction that Burtt had gone. The book was an exercise in internal history. For Koyré science is a philosophic endeavor concerned with the basic categories of thought about nature, and constrained by the logical necessities of its content. His works pursue the problems of early modern science as the leading scientists defined them and analyze the conceptual developments in detail. Anyone interested in pursuing modern science as a system of thought can do no better than to start with him. His From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (New York: Harper, 1957) explores the appearance of a new cosmology as one of the central features of the new conception of nature. Koyré's name will appear several other times in this list. He was also the prolific author of articles equally eloquent and influential, some of the most important of which have been collected in the volume Metaphysics and Measurement (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1968). Some of the earliest work in the history of the Scientific Revolution appeared in the Journal of the History of Ideas. Philip P. Wiener and Aaron Noland have edited a number of these articles in The Roots of Scientific Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1960).

A number of histories of the Scientific Revolution trace its development from the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth century. In the aftermath of World War II, moved by the heightened consciousness of the centrality of science in the modern world, a distinguished historian at Cambridge University, *Herbert Butterfield, undertook to introduce the history of science into the history curriculum. The Origins of Modem Science (London: Bell, 1949), will probably never cease to be a valuable introduction to the topic and a testimony to the capacity of a historian without technical training in science to penetrate the history of science successfully and to contribute substantially to it. A. R. Hall followed Butterfield with The Scientific Revolution (see above), a somewhat comprehensive treatment of the subject With Marie Boas Hall, he also attempted to launch a multivolume general history of science. The only two volumes in the series that ever appeared--Marie Boas Hall, The Scientific Renaissance, and A. R. Hall, From Galileo to Newton (New York: Harper, 1962)--offer a still more detailed treatment of the period. *Marie Boas Hall has also published a collection of basic texts from the Scientific Revolution, Nature and Nature's Laws (New York: Walker, 1970), which are useful in the classroom. Two volumes of the nearly complete Cambridge History of Science series present a shorter survey of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: *Allen Debus, Man and Nature in the Renaissance, and *Richard S. Westfall, The Construction of Modem Science (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977, 1978). *Hugh Kearney, Science and Change, 1500-1700 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971) treats the Scientific Revolution more briefly, and with some attention to its social dimension, in a single volume. Two other books discuss the period of the Scientific Revolution as part of a longer sequence. E.J. Dijksterhuis, The Mechanization of the World Picture (trans. C. Dikshoorn; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961) which starts with Greek natural philosophy, concludes with the seventeenth century. Charles Gillispie's interpretive essay on modern science, The Edge of Objectivity (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1960), a work studied carefully by historians of science but readily accessible to nonspecialists, begins with the Scientific Revolution.


Developments in a number of different sciences constituted the totality called the Scientific Revolution. Nearly everyone agrees that the basic reassessment of the place of the earth in the universe, the change from a geocentric to a heliocentric astronomy, was of crucial importance. A brief but penetrating study by *Thomas S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1957), starts with the geocentric picture of the world, which it insists that we take seriously, and follows astronomy through Kepler. Alexandre Koyré The Astronomical Revolution (trans. R. E. W. Maddison; Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press: 1973), is a much more technically detailed discussion that focuses on Copernicus, Kepler, and Borelli. Years ago Francis R. Johnson, a student of Elizabethan literature who wanted to understand the references to astronomy that he found in literary works, like Butterfield proved that there is nothing in the history of science that is closed to the determined nonspecialist. His Astronomical Thought in Renaissance England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1937), remains a good introduction to the Copernican revolution. More recently, another nonspecialist and distinguished literary figure, Arthur Koestler, composed The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (London: Hutchinson, 1959), a book rejected by many historians of science because of its deep hostility to Galileo, but also a book with many suggestive insights into Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler, who is its central subject. There are, of course, biographies of the leading astronomers. The accepted study of Copernicus is Angus Armitage's Sun, Stand Thou Still (New York: Schuman, 1947), of Kepler, Max Casper's Kepler (trans. Doris Hellman; New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1959).

Mechanics, the science of motion, the central core of physics, was another crucial area of the Scientific Revolution. *I. B. Cohen has written a history of mechanics during the seventeenth century, The Birth of a New Physics (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1960; 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1985) directed at a nonspecialist, nontechnical audience. The contributions of Galileo marked the beginning of modern mechanics, and many works on Galileo, such as Koyré's Galileo Studies, are equally works on mechanics. A more recent French scholar, Maurice Clavelin, who continues Koyré's tradition of detailed conceptual analysis while revising some of Koyré's conclusions, has produced one of the best expositions of his thought, The Natural Philosophy of Galileo, (trans. A. J. Pomerans; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1974). Stillman Drake, a prolific scholar on Galileo, has drawn together the fruit of his many articles into a biographical study, Galileo at Work (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1978). It is a book intended for specialists, and though it is a suitable place to start the study of Galileo's life, it is not the place to begin the study of his work. Ernan McMullin has edited a volume, Galileo, Man of Science (New York: Basic Books, 1968), with articles on every aspect of Galileo's career and work. His own introductory essay, with the same title as the book, is an excellent brief discussion of Galileo's contribution to science. William Shea, Galileo's Intellectual Revolution (New York: Science History Publications, 1972), studies the period between Galileo's early telescopic discoveries and the great dialogues that closed his career, with special attention to Galileo the experimenter. Galileo's own works are all available in excellent English translations, the work of Stillman Drake. Drake has collected a number of the shorter pieces, which are particularly adaptable for use in the classroom, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957). No other scientist of the seventeenth century is so readable, and since he directed his works, not to a scientific community, which scarcely existed at the time, but to a lay public that had been instructed in natural philosophy, a historian (or student) of the twentieth century can comprehend them readily. (For studies of Newton, who contributed massively to mechanics, see Section IV below).

Optics, the study of light. a subject that no viable natural philosophy can ignore, was another field of innovation in seventeenth-century science. David Lindberg Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1976), concludes with a fine discussion of Kepler's major contribution to optics, his concept of the retinal image. A. I. Sabra, Theories of Light: From Descartes to Newton (London: Oldbourne, 1967), is exactly what the title promises, a study, not of theories of vision, but of theories of the nature of light, through the seventeenth century. Alan Shapiro's monograph "Kinematic Optics:A Study of the Wave Theory of Light in the Seventeenth Century," Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 1973, 11:134-266, pursues one particular theory the nature of light in greater detail and in greater technical complexity. Carl Boyer, The Rainbow from Myth to Mathematics (New York: Yoseloff, 1955), though not confined chronologically to the Scientific Revolution and not concerned with optics as a whole, nevertheless follows the growing understanding of one optical phenomenon with special attention to developments during the seventeenth century.

The best investigation of the biological sciences during the Scientific Revolution, Jacques Roger's Les sciences de la vie dans la pensee francaise du XVIIIe siecle (Paris: Armand Colin, 1963) (which, despite the title, does not in any sense confine itself to France or to the eighteenth century) has not, unfortunately, been translated into English, and nothing adequately replaces it. For the biological sciences as a whole during this period, one can best consult the relevant sections of a general history of biology, such as Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), which has the disadvantage for my present purpose of fragmenting seventeenth-century material among various thematic chapters, or Erik Nordenskiold's much older History of Biology, (trans. Leonard Bucknall Eyre; New York: Knopf, 1928). There is a large and excellent literature on William Harvey. Waiter Pagel, William Harvey's Biological Ideas (New York: Karger, 1967), a masterful book by one of the outstanding historians of science, establishes the centrality of an Aristotelian conception of living things in Harvey's work. The best treatment of Harvey's most important discovery, Gweneth Whitteridge, William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood (London: Macdonald, 1971), successfully introduces the reader to the intellectual context from which it emerged and lets him follow Harvey's investigation rather than merely presenting Harvey's finished theory. Robert Frank, Harvey and the Oxford Physiologists (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 1980), pursues the history of a school of physiology that grew out of Harvey's work and concentrates, not on reciting the conclusions they reached, but on tracing the dynamics of a vigorous scientific tradition. Frank's book belongs also among those concerned, at least in part, with social considerations. Seventeenth-century embryology is only beginning to be studied in detail, but there has been a massive publication of sources with a discussion of them, Howard Adelmann, Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology, 5 vols. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1966).

In chemistry as in biology, a basic work has not been translated from French -- Helene Metzger's book on chemical doctrines in France. In this case, however, a distinguished book in English fills the gap -- Marie Boas Hall, Robert Boyle and Seventeenth-Century Chemistry (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1958), a study at once of Boyle and of the impact of the mechanical philosophy on chemistry. See also the second half of Robert P. Multhauf, The Origins of Chemistry (New York: Watts, 1967). Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (New York: Karger, 1958), offers the best treatment of the most important figure in the chemistry that preceded Boyle. Allen G. Debus has been the leading student of the Paracelsian tradition; see his Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (2 vols.; New York: Science History Publications, 1977) and, for a brief statement in the space of a single lecture, his Chemical Dream of the Renaissance (Cambridge: Heffer, 1968). Arnold Thackray, Atoms and Powers: An Essay on Newtonian Matter Theory and the Development of Chemistry (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970), an investigation of the Newtonian school of chemistry during the eighteenth century, begins, of course with chemistry in the late seventeenth century.


Beyond the new approaches to individual phenomena such as motion and light, the Scientific Revolution embraced a radically different conception of nature what is frequently referred to, in a seventeenth-century phrase, as the mechanical philosophy. A good introduction to it, which looks consistently at fundamental philosophical themes rather than detailed features and compares the mechanical philosophy with contrasting conceptions of nature held by the Creeks earlier and by European science at later times, is found in *Robin Collingwood, The Idea of Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945). Burtt's Metaphysical Foundations, listed in Section I, is of course fundamentally concerned with the new conception of nature.

Frances Yates's influential Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1964), examines a radically different natural philosophy that dominated European thought during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century until it began to be supplanted by the mechanical philosophy. Pagel's Paracelsus and Debus's Chemical Philosophy, listed in the paragraph on chemistry above, and Dobbs's Foundations of Newton's Alchemy, listed in Section IV below, are equally studies of this tradition of natural philosophy. Paolo Rossi, Francis Bacon: From Magic to Science (trans. Sacha Rabinovitch; Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1968), pursues the role of hermeticism, along with other influences, in the thought of Bacon. Two articles by Robert S. Westman and J. E. McGuire, published together as Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution (Berkeley/Los Angeles: Univ. California Press, 1977), take issue with a strand of scholarship, following Yates's work, that has argued for the continuing influence of hermetic themes through the seventeenth century. So also does Brian Vickers's introductory essay in the volume he edited, Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Most of the essays in the Vickers volume expound aspects of the hermetic tradition.

For expositions of the mechanical philosophy, see Romano Harre , Matter & Method (London: Macmillan, 1964), the book of a philosopher ultimately concerned with philosophical issues attached to the mechanical philosophy, and Marie Boas Hall, "The Establishment of the Mechanical Philosophy," Osiris, 1952, 10:412-541, the book (which it is in fact) of a historian of science ultimately concerned with the intellectual life of the seventeenth century, as reflected primarily in the work of Robert Boyle. Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980), brings the points of view of feminism and environmentalism together in an attack on the mechanical philosophy and on major aspects of Western civilization which she treats as its consequence.


Isaac Newton looms so large as the culminating figure of the Scientific Revolution that I have reserved a separate section for him. Newton has been the subject of an enormous body of scholarship, especially during the last two decades. Much of it is highly technical, and in any case I could not begin to list a significant portion of it in this short essay. Anyone wanting to proceed further with Newton can quickly learn about the literature through the bibliographies and notes of the works that I do list here. The last two decades have also witnessed extensive publications of Newton's manuscripts, sometimes papers on given topics, sometimes collections of papers and manuscripts. All of these volumes, which one can readily find in catalogue of any major library, contain prefaces and introductions; these essays are frequently the most advanced literature on Newton but are certainly not addressed to beginners.

Nearly two decades ago, as the boom in Newtonian studies was just beginning, Robert Palter edited the proceedings of a conference, The Annus Mirabilis of Sir Newton (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT 1970), which contains papers on every aspect of Newton as it was then understood. Though many details have changed as a result of more recent research, the volume remains valuable. Six scholars have been among the prominent interpreters of Newton. Alexandre Koyré , Studies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1965), is, as its name implies a collection of short pieces concerned with Newton. I. B. Cohen, Franklin and Newton (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1956), a history of early electrical science, helped to initiate the boom in Newtonian research. Although subsequent work, including Cohen's own, has revised some details, the book remains an important introduction, not so much to Newton's mathematical physics as to his speculations on the nature of physical reality. Recently Cohen summarized his life-long interest in an important interpretation of Newton's science that does center on mathematical physics, The Newtonian Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980). Ernan McMullin, Newton on Matter and Activity (Notre Dame: Univ. Notre Dame Press, 1978), investigates the conception of physical reality that stood behind the mathematical physics. A similar theme, with emphasis on the influence of Neoplatonic philosophy on Newton, animates a series of papers by J. E. McGuire. I cannot list them all; a fundamental one is "Force, Active Principles, and Newton's Invisible Realm," Ambix, 1968, 15:154-208. McGuire's essay in the volume with Westman (see Section III) also concerns itself with Newton. A. R. Hall, whose interpretation of Newtonian science can be found in his books on the Scientific Revolution, has also written the best study of Newton's quarrel with Leibniz on priority in the invention of the calculus, Philosophers at War (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980). The book does not attempt to deal with the history of the mathematics itself; it is, therefore, also a contribution to the social history of science. Henry Guerlac, best known for his work on chemistry in the eighteenth century, has also written a number of influential papers on Newton. Some of them can be found in his volume Newton on the Continent (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1981) and in the section called "Newtonian Science" in his Essays and Papers in the History of Modern Science (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1977).

B.J.T. Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1975), is easily the best examination of a subject only seriously opened during the last decade and likely to remain, as its name suggests, a topic of acrid controversy in the interpretation of Newton. Margaret C. Jacob, The Newtonians and the English Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1976), should perhaps more properly be listed among books on the external history of science, to which it is one of the most prominent recent additions; in its focus specifically on Newtonian science, which it relates to the social and political history of England during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, it belongs under the present heading as well. Over the years Newton has been the subject of an extensive biographical literature. Recent additions to it include *Frank E. Manuel's Portrait of Isaac Newton (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1968), a major contribution to the school of psychohistory and a book which, in its general avoidance of technical details of Newtonian science, is easily (and pleasurably) readable by any educated person. I myself am the author of another recent biography of Newton, Never at Rest (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1980), which does attempt to deal with Newton's science as the central strand of his life. More recently still another biography of Newton, Gale E. Christianson, In the Presence of the Creator Isaac Newton and His Times (New York: Free Press, 1984), concentrates more on the setting of Newton's life and somewhat less on the details of his scientific activity.


Although notable developments in the commonly employed methodology of scientific investigation were one of the central features of the Scientific Revolution, there is no good history of method, either in general or in our period. Perhaps the nearest apprach to one is William Wallace, Causality and Scientific Explanation (2 vols.; Ann Arbor: Univ. Michigan Press, 1972-1974), whose title indicates that method itself is not its central concern. R. M. Blake, et al., Theories of Scientific Method (Seattle: Univ. Washington Press, 1960), consists of a series of historical essays on method, some devoted to men of the seventeenth century. H. R. Randall "The Development of the Scientific Method in the School of Padua," one of the papers in the Wierner and Noland volume Roots of Scientific Thought (see Section I), focuses on the philosophical school at Padua in the period immediately before Galileo. R. H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1964), a study related to various aspects of the Scientific Revolution, also touched on matters concerned with method.


In passing, I have indicated a number of books that contribute to the external history of the Scientific Revolution. The classic study on the social context of early science is Robert K. Merton, Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth Century England (New York: Fertig, 1970; published originally in Osiris, 1938). By the use of statistics based on biographies in the Dictionary, of National Biography , Merton demonstrates the increasing interest in science as a field of study during the seventeenth century. The title of his work indicates his attention to the technological applications of science. What the title does not clearly suggest is Merton's focus on the connection between Puritanism and science, a hypothesis that did not originate either with Merton or with the twentieth century but has become. largely through the influence of his work, a continuing subject of lively discussion. It is one of the major themes of Richard F. Jones, Ancients and Moderns: A Study, of the Rise of the Scientific Movement in Seventeenth-Century England (St. Louis: Washington Univ. Press, 1961), Christopher Hill, Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), and *R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modem Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press). During the early 1960s it was a subject of an extended scholarly discussion in a series of articles that appeared in Past and Present and the Joumal of World History . More recently the Puritan hypothesis, together with insistence on the practical application of science to reshape society, has furnished the argument of Charles Webster, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine, and Reform, 1626-1660 (London: Duckworth, 1975).

Joseph Ben-David, one of the most respected sociologists of science, devoted much of his attention to the social history of science. Part of his book The Scientist's Role in Society (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971), which summarizes some of this work, concerns the seventeenth-century, though one should in caution add that this section is not the part of the book that has most pleased the critics. *Hugh Kearney, Origins of the Scientific Revolution (London: Longmans, 1964), which is part of the Problems and Perspectives in History series, assembles essays and documents relevant to the title, including a considerable amount on the social context of the Scientific Revolution. *Michael Hunter, Science and Society in Restoration England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), concentrates on the issue as it pertains to one country.

More than fifty years ago a Soviet scholar, Boris Hessen, published an article (issued since as a separate volume) that remains the classic application of Marxian philosophy to the history of science, The Social and Economic Roots of Newton's Principia (New York: Fertig, 1971; published originally in the Soviet volume Science at the Crossroads , 1931). Edgar Zilsel was another early student of the economic and social sources of modern science. Among his numerous articles, see especially "The Origins of William Gilbert's Scientific Method" (in Wiener and Noland, Roots of Scientific Thought , cited in Section 1) and "The Sociological Roots of Science," American Journal of Sociology , 1941/2, 47:544-562. More recently, Paolo Rossi, Philosophy, Technology, and the Arts in the Early Modern Era (trans. Salvator Attanasio; New York: Harper & Row, 1970), one of the most penetrating analyses of the social context of the Scientific Revolution, discusses the interpenetration of technology and philosophy, the new appraisal of labor, and the notion of science as a cooperative endeavor extended through time, all of which he finds in the fifteenth through the seventeenth century.

Another question of interest has been science and the universities. W. T. Costello, The Scholastic Curriculum at Early Seventeenth-Century Cambridge (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1958), argues for the continuing dominance of the traditional curriculum through the middle of the century. Barbara Shapiro, "The Universities and Science in Seventeenth-Century England,ÒJournal of British Studies , 1971, 10:47-82, stresses in contrast the encouragement of science in the universities. So also does the recent book by Mordechai Feingold, The Mathematicians' Apprenticeship: Science, Universities and Society in England; 1560-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984). Early scientific societies offer another subject that is obviously of the greatest importance to the social history of the Scientific Revolution. Martha Ornstein, The Role of the Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century (1913, Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1928), though now nearly three quarters of a century old, remains the only book on scientific societies in general. Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in Seventeenth-Century France (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1934), another venerable book that has stood the test of time, does a similar thing for the more limited territory of one country. W.E.K. Middleton, The Experimenters: A Study of the Accademia' del Cimento (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1971), the leading work on one of the early Italian academies that concerned themselves primarily with science, includes a full translation of the Accademia's Essays of Natural Experiments . Of the several histories of the Royal Society, I still prefer Dorothy Stimson, Scientists and Amateurs: A History of the Royal Society (New York: Schuman, 1948), which is of course not confined to the seventeenth century. The same comment applies to G. N. Clark and A. M. Cooke, A History of the Royal College of Physicians of London (3 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964-1972). Roger Hahn, The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution: The Paris Academy of Sciences, 1666-1803 (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 15)71), is at once the most recent and the best study of the formation of the Academie.


If you are inclined to insert a single lecture on the Scientific Revolution in your course on Western history, I would suggest organizing it under three major headings: the Copernican revolution, the mechanical conception of nature, and the Newtonian synthesis. You could prepare for such a lecture by reading Burtt's Metaphysical Foundations, Kuhn's Copernican Revolution, Hall's Revolution in Science, Koyré's Metaphysics and Measurement. If you are inclined to assign special readings to the class, selected chapters from my Construction of Modern Science, a book written with an undergraduate audience in mind (Chs. 1, 2, and 8) are possible, or better some short piece (such as the Starry Messenger) in Drake's Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo or one of the texts in Marie Boas Hall's Nature and Nature's Laws. If you incline rather toward a week's set of three lectures, I suggest exactly the three topics above, including Galileo and the problem of motion in your discussion of the Copernican revolution, some specific development that utilized mechanistic concepts (such as the barometer and the concept of atmospheric pressure) in the one on the mechanical philosophy, and a fuller discussion of Newton in relation to the issues of seventeenth-century science in the third. For your own reading, do not fail to digest Koyré's Galileo Studies. Unless you differ radically from me, once you have read that you will not need further instruction to read more of Koyré's book. Also read Collingwood on the mechanical philosophy and Cohen on Newton. For assignments to the students, expand on the suggestions above.

Two weeks of lectures on the Scientific Revolution are by no means out of proportion to the topic's importance. If I were constructing a set of six lectures they would run as follows: (1) The revolution; (2) Galileo and the science of mechanics; (3) the mechanical philosophy of nature; (4) the optics during the seventeenth century; (5) the organization of the scientific enterprise; and (6) the Newtonian synthesis. Alternatives to (4) and (5) might be Harvey and the circulation of the blood, the trial of Galileo (possibly joined to a discussion of deism to contrast the world view before the rise of modern science with that at end of the seventeenth century), or a lecture on science and technology in the seventeenth century. There is no point my trying to direct your reading; the entire bibliographic essay intends to offer the necessary suggestions. For the students you might wish to consider selections from Galileo's thoroughly readable Dialogue, Descartes's Discourse on Method, more selections from Hall's volume, and selections from Newton in Newton's Philosophy of Nature by H. S. Thayer (New York: Hafner, 1953).

The Scientific Revolution by Richard S. Westfall
First published in the History of Science Society Newsletter
Volume 15, no. 3 (July 1986) © 1989 by the History of Science Society
This WebVersion Created by Robert A. Hatch with the permission of
Glorida Westfall and the History of Science Society.