Lectures - History/Philosophy Science

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    Science and Religion in the Middle Ages
    (1990-12-08) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    In contrast to a paper I did a few years ago on "Science and Theology in the Middle Ages," which focused solely on the Latin Middle Ages and almost exclusively on the period from 1200 to 1500, I shall expand my vistas considerably today and place the relations between Christianity and science in a broad societal context ranging from the beginnings of Christianity to the end of the Middle Ages. Although my topic is primarily on the relations between science and religion in Western Europe, I shall also briefly describe the same interrelationships in Islam, with the hope of better understanding Christian developments.
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    Natural Philosophy and Theology in the Late Middle Ages: A Surprising Relationship?
    (1999-07-28) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    During the Middle Ages, the relations between science and religion are much more appropriately represented by the relations between natural philosophy and theology. Although there were recognizable sciences in the Middle Ages astronomy, optics, and statics, for example which had some relationship with theology, it was natural philosophy that had the most significant connection. In order to grasp the relationship between natural philosophy and theology, it is advisable to treat each discipline independently in two phases. Thus I shall first consider natural philosophy from two aspects: the first will be about the nature of the discipline itself, followed by the second aspect which will determine the extent to which natural philosophy was affected by theology. Theology will be treated similarly. I shall first convey a sense of theology as a discipline, and then describe how it was affected by natural philosophy and, to a lesser extent, logic, that is, how theology was affected by the two most important, widely studied, secular disciplines in the Middle Ages.
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    Journey Through the Spheres: The Cosmos in the Middle Ages
    (1997-03-14) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    Questions or issues discussed in the paper include: WHAT IS COSMOLOGY? Descriptions of the structure and operation of the cosmos as it is understood by scholars in any society or civilization. THE ORIGINS OF COSMOLOGY IN THE EUROPEAN MIDDLE AGES BETWEEN 1200 AND 1500 WHO WERE THE COSMOLOGISTS IN THE MIDDLE AGES? THE LITERATURE OF COSMOLOGY THE MACROSTRUCTURE OF THE MEDIEVAL COSMOS COSMOLOGICAL QUESTIONS, PROBLEMS AND RESPONSES IN THE MIDDLE AGES
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    The Nature of West European Science in the Late Middle Ages (1200-1500)
    (1993-04-30) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    By the twelfth century, western Europe had developed a hunger for new secular learning. Up to that time, what scholars knew about the physical world was derived from traditional Latin handbooks that contained the remnants of a popular science that went back to the Greeks of the Hellenistic period. The knowledge they sought has been appropriately characterized as "Greco-Arabic" science because it consisted of works written in Greek within a Greek cultural orbit going back as far as the 5th century B.C., and also of works written in Arabic that had been either translated from Greek or were original compositions. The number of works translated from Arabic into Latin far exceeded those translated from Greek into Latin. These translations were made by scholars from all parts of Europe, who went to Spain, Sicily, and northern Italy, or were already inhabitants of these places. Most of those who translated from Arabic to Latin had to learn Arabic, which was not their native language. Without their extraordinary achievements, late medieval science in Europe might never have occurred. This vast amount of new learning that entered western Europe, and which had never before known in the Latin language, is appropriately divisible into two categories: the first includes treatises that were devoted to technical science, such as Euclid's Elements and Ptolemy's Almagest; the second embraces those that were classifiable as works of natural philosophy, especially those written by Aristotle (along with commentaries on Aristotle's treatises by the Arabian commentators, Averroes [1126-1198] and Avicenna [980-1037]). Although both of these divisions of Greco-Arabic science were important for the development of the history of science, I will argue that what medieval scholars did with natural philosophy and the role they assigned to it in intellectual life was ultimately more important than what they did with the technical sciences. In this lecture, I shall focus on the role of natural philosophy.
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    Jesuits and the New Cosmology
    (1991-06-10) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    Because the Jesuit order was formed in 1540 and survived as a vibrant and powerful force until 1773, when it was dissolved in Europe, Jesuit natural philosophers found themselves living in a period of enormous scientific and intellectual change. Founded only three years before the publication of Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, the Jesuits had to confront the new science that was emerging from that landmark treatise. In a real sense, they were caught between two intellectual conceptions of the world: the geocentric Aristotelian world view and the new one taking shape around the heliocentric system of Copernicus and the new discoveries of Tycho Brahe and Galileo. What was the reaction of Jesuit natural philosophers?
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    Charles Homer Haskins and Medieval Science
    (1984-12-28) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    Although George Orwell made the year 1984 infamous, the very antithesis of intellectual inquiry and achievement, historians, historians of science, and historians of medieval science in particular, have good reason to celebrate this much-abused year. It is of course the centennial of the American Historical Association of which the History of Science Society feels itself a vital part. It is also the 60th anniversary of the founding of the History of Science Society and the 60th anniversary of Haskins's great volume on medieval science. One more significant anniversary must also be mentioned: it is the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Sarton, who was not only the founder of the journal Isis, and the moving force behind the formation of the History of Science Society, but a friend and admirer of Charles Haskins. In truth, although Sarton had been trained as a scientist, he was more a medievalist than anything else, as monumental three volume work, Introduction to the History of Science, attests. It was undoubtedly Sarton who recruited his Harvard colleague, Haskins, as a member of the organizing committee of the History of Science Society. Haskins's publications in Isis probably derived from his relationship with Sarton, who, as we saw, was well aware of the importance and quality of Haskins' research on the translation and transmission of medieval science. Together these two Harvard medievalists played a vital role in establishing the History of Science Society and in making research in medieval science an integral and respectable part of research in the history of science. It is appropriate and just, therefore, to number Charles Homer Haskins among that small group of medievalists who, during the first quarter of this century, effectively repudiated the idea, current since the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, that the expression "medieval science" was a contradiction in terms.
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    The Dynamics of Natural Philosophy in the Aristotelian Tradition (and Beyond): Doctrinal and Institutional Perspectives
    (1999-08-16) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    To understand why natural philosophy played such a fundamental role in medieval intellectual life, we must view it in the context within which it was born in Western Europe. Before the introduction in the twelfth century of Aristotle’s works, which formed the solid foundation on which medieval natural philosophy was built, natural philosophy was a marginal activity based upon two-thirds of Plato’s Timaeus, Calcidius’s commentary on that treatise, and what relevant works might be available from a few Roman authors and one or more of the Latin encyclopedists: Boethius, Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Isidore of Seville, Cassiodorus, and a few others. With such an intellectual fare, Western Europe would not have gone far. But even before the introduction of Aristotle’s natural philosophy, Western Europe was already undergoing a momentous transformation, one that was destined to shape its attitude toward the world until the present day, and that will continue to shape its outlook into the foreseeable future. I speak about the conscious desire of many scholars to follow the path of reason, as opposed to authority. In a Christian society founded upon faith and revealed truth, the new attitude was startling.
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    God and the Medieval Cosmos
    (1999-07-29) Grant, Edward; Edward Grant
    Scholastic natural philosophers sought to understand the physical world at a time when controlled experiments, systematic observations, and the application of mathematics to physical phenomena, were rare occurrences. They had to rely on two powerful tools of analysis available to them. The first was REASON, which they usually applied in a largely a priori manner, based on a minimum of observation and empirical data. They applied reason most effectively in circumstances of their own devising, that is in the realm of the hypothetical, which enabled them to make use of the second great tool: THE HUMAN IMAGINATION, used in ways that I have already described. The conditions they imagined were possible, but only by virtue of God's absolute power, provided that God's action did not imply a logical contradiction. It was by such means that medieval natural philosophers got beyond Aristotle's limited world and came to consider momentous problems about space, vacuum, and other worlds. Many of the non-scholastics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries grappled with the same problems, and profited from the earlier discussions. They were, however, in no mood to acknowledge indebtedness to the defenders of Aristotle and the status quo. After all, they were bringing a new world order into being, a Copernican-Newtonian heliocentric world that would completely replace the Aristotelian scholastic geocentric model that had reigned for more than four centuries. They saw no need to be gracious in triumph. Indeed, they had only contempt for their medieval predecessors, whose opinions they mocked and scorned at every opportunity. The image of medieval scholastic cosmology and science will forever be the hostile one Galileo constructed. Nevertheless, the significant process of "getting beyond Aristotle" had already begun in the Middle Ages, though it would come to spectacular fruition only in the seventeenth century. In retrospect, then, it seems appropriate to accord a small measure of credit to those much-maligned scholastics, and thereby modestly begin to redress a long-standing injustice inflicted upon the Middle Ages by the victors in the science wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.