The overview course History of Early Modern Science: An Introduction provides the undergraduate student with the necessary conceptual tools and analytical skills in order to address, from the perspective of constructivist epistemology, the history of "scientific modes of thought and practice" broadly defined, as they emerged and unfurled on the European continent starting with Antiquity and until the beginning of the 19th-century, which is traditionally considered within the historiography-of-science literature as the "Second Scientific Revolution" and the dawn of "modern science" as currently conceived.
There are two distinct ways of conceptualizing "science": (a) as a body of knowledge about the world obtained through "natural" means (not through divine illumination, prophecy or magic, for instance); (b) and as a range of methods for obtaining and validating that body of knowledge. These different conceptions will be treated together in this course, since the assumption is that the 'object of knowledge' (the world, other living/ non-living entities populating it, the human being) is shaped by the means and procedures through which knowledge of it is produced, accumulated, and tested, while also these very methods, and procedures, and tests of knowledge are shaped by the way in which the 'object of knowledge' is defined and characterized by a plethora of convergent and permeable discourses: theological, political, social, artistic etc.
The fundamental aim of the course is neither to offer a "total picture" of the ways of thinking and knowledge practices of the so-called major contributors to this history, nor to suggest - through the former - a smooth, linear, and ultimately deterministic "progress" from the muddled inquiries of an Aristotle and a Hippocrates, to the enlightening laboratory experiments of a Claude Bernard and of a Louis Pasteur. The course is rather interested in offering a view of "science" as a "situated" intellectual and socio-cultural form of human praxis, one that holds both historical relationships with its contexts of emergence and transformation, and a particular transhistorical relationship with its own objective, which is the pursuit of truth through a variety of historically and locally sanctioned means. Thus, on the one hand, the course strives to develop a historical sensibility to the "otherness" of past bodies of knowledge, and of past procedures, techniques, and apparatuses deployed for producing, legitimizing, or correcting those knowledges. On the other hand, it also endeavours to highlight the similarities between the distant past and the present, and to ask questions that have maintained their pertinence to the practice of 'science' through the ages: what is the role of pre-existent authority in the making of 'science'? What is the best way of knowing nature - by reason, by observation, by experimental 'doings,' by modelling, by some combination of these? What is scientific knowledge for? Is it simply for satisfying human curiosity and the urge to understand the world, or does it have some other social, material, and moral functions too? What is the relationship between scientific and theological modes of knowing the world? Would a science of living beings, and particularly of human beings, function in similar ways to a science about non-living entities/ non-human living beings?
- Teacher: Alexandra Manta