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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

3 - Scientific Explanation from Formal Causes to Laws of Nature

from Part I - The New Nature
Summary
Scientific innovators in the period 1500-1800 rejects Aristotle's account of the four kinds of causes as a source of acceptable theories in the specific sciences. This chapter considers three notable changes in early modern scientific explanations. The first was a change in the overall purpose of scientific research that was initiated by those critics of Aristotelianism who relinquished Aristotle's goal of understanding the form of each natural substance. A second notable change consisted in the replacement of long-standing Aristotelian explanations of specific kinds of natural phenomena. Finally, a third notable change in early modern scientific explanations was signaled by natural philosophers' waning interest in metaphysical discussions of the nature of causality itself. The chapter shows how to define laws of nature crucially depended on the concept of God as an extrinsic final cause and on the concept of matter as an extrinsic efficient cause.
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The Cambridge History of Science
  • Online ISBN: 9781139054010
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521572446
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