Of all the innovations that Europe experienced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the most influential was intellectual transformation that we refer to as the “scientific revolution”. It must be noticed that precisely because there was a revolution, a lot of intellectuals still ignored or opposed the change going on around them. The key point of what happened in the seventeenth century was new discovery, scientists were able to break away from the classical tradition and make their own findings.
In Italy, Galileo Galilei first applied the telescope and microscope to scientific work and experimented with them. He showed that the improvement of investigatory instruments made the technical advance possible. On the basis of his own observations, he accepted the conclusion of Copernicus that the earth moved around the sun and not vice versa. He proved experimentally that Aristotle had committed an error in saying that heavy bodies would fall in a vacuum more rapidly than light bodies. In other words, he moved toward a proper understanding of gravity.
For Galileo made it impossible to believe in the old theory about earth as center of universe he was brought before the Italian inquisition as a potential heretic. Yet his achievements were vital to further astronomical knowledge. Galileo’s empirical work only confirmed that there were new ways of getting at truth, and this was really the foundation of the scientific revolution. A slightly different approach was taken by Rene Descartes, also in the early seventeenth century. He made major strides in developing mathematics.
Ultimately, the mathematical approach, combined with greater empiricism, such as Galileo’s, produced the modern scientific method, deduction. The third figure is Francis Bacon, who, like Descartes, made few actual scientific discoveries. He for the first time set forth a philosophy of empiricism. The way to knowledge was not through abstract reasoning, but through repeated experiments which, when they produced a predictable result, represented new truth. The interest in science boomed from the mid-seventeenth century onward.
The scientific revolution made a considerable break with the medieval-Renaissance approach to knowledge. Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes displayed a mutual scorn for received knowledge. What had previously been said about the physical universe, needed to be re-reasoned, according to Descartes, or exposed to direct experimentation, according to Galileo and Bacon. The later seventeenth century saw steady advance in scientific knowledge. The gains in biology were great. Microscopes allowed new knowledge of invisible, unicellular organisms.
The knowledge in medicine was actively accumulated through medical practice: microscopic anatomy, the circulation of blood, inoculation and vaccination, and so on. The powerful breakthrough in chemistry also occurred in the seventeenth century. The discovery of oxygen, causative relation between oxygen and burning, water formula, and many other discoveries led to the important conclusion that the world consisted of “mixtures” of basic elements. The great developments in astronomy and physics became the basis for calling what happened an intellectual revolution.
Advances from Copernicus and Galileo accrued steadily, as observation showed elliptical instead of circular orbits of planets about the sun. In such work telescopic observation was combined with mathematical calculation. The culmination of physics development came with Isaac Newton and his explanation of universe completely through the use of mathematics with the help of which he could show that the universe operated in a completely rational way. Through his study and telescopic observations of the behavior of planetary bodies, Newton discovered a phenomenon of physical attraction between them, which is called gravity.
Speaking about scientific revolution in terms of intellectual development we must mention another prominent figure, John Locke. He was an important political philosopher, hostile to absolute rule and a defender of toleration and individual rights. He believed that government owed duties to its citizens and even assumed the right of revolution when these duties were not fulfilled. Locke rejected the medieval approach which posited knowledge by faith, which might then be followed by reason. He also rejected Descartes’ idea of innate knowledge.
Hence, he supported the idea of the newborn human mind as a blank sheet of paper, to be filled in by rational experience. The scientific revolution then, consisted of: immense new discoveries in physics and biology; of a related belief that nature was orderly and that human reason could progressively grasp more and more of how it works; of a denial of the necessity of faith. God might still be around, but he was just part of the rational order, who put the works together and then let them run.