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De-centring the ‘big picture’: The Origins of Modern Science and the modern origins of science

  • Andrew Cunningham and Perry Williams (a1)

Like it or not, a big picture of the history of science is something which we cannot avoid. Big pictures are, of course, thoroughly out of fashion at the moment; those committed to specialist research find them simplistic and insufficiently complex and nuanced, while postmodernists regard them as simply impossible. But however specialist we may be in our research, however scornful of the immaturity of grand narratives, it is not so easy to escape from dependence – acknowledged or not – on a big picture. When we define our research as part of the history of science, we implicitly invoke a big picture of that history to give identity and meaning to our specialism. When we teach the history of science, even if we do not present a big picture explicitly, our students already have a big picture of that history which they bring to our classes and into which they fit whatever we say, no matter how many complications and refinements and contradictions we put before them – unless we offer them an alternative big picture.

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We are very grateful to Jim Secord for his invitation and encouragement to give an earlier version of this paper to the British Society for the History of Science conference ‘Getting the Big Picture’ in May 1991; to the respondents at that meeting, who inspired us to explain certain points more fully; to Nick Jardine and Harmke Kamminga for their expert and critical advice on several matters; and to John Christie, Ole Grell, Jonathan Hodge, Jim Secord, and an anonymous referee for various helpful suggestions. And finally we are grateful to our students, who have been our original audience and our original critics during the ten years that we have been developing this argument.

1 Butterfield, Herbert, The Origins of Modern Science 1300–1800, 2nd edn, London, 1957. The chief rival as an introductory textbook in English is probably The Scientific Revolution 1500–1800: The Formation of The Modern Scientific Attitude, New York, 1954, by Butterfield's pupil, Hall, A. Rupert, now in its second edition as The Revolution in Science 1500–1750, Harlow, 1983. See also Kuhn, Thomas S., The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought, Cambridge, Mass., 1957; Gillespie, C. C., The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas, Princeton, 1960; Dijksterhuis, E. J., The Mechanization of the World Picture, Oxford, 1961; Westfall, Richard S., The Construction of Modern Science: Mechanism and Mechanics, New York, 1971.

2 The title was also used by Koyré for a series of lectures at Johns Hopkins University in 1951. See his From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe, Baltimore, 1957, p. ix. Compare also the sub-title of Hall, , 1954, op. cit. (1). ‘The origins of modern science’ was also the title of Chapter 1 of Alfred North Whitehead's Science and the Modern World, New York, 1925, the printed version of his Lowell lectures given the same year; he too was referring to the seventeenth century.

3 Others, including other authors in this issue of the BJHS, would probably prefer to express this in the language of postmodernism. We are deliberately not using this language, not on the grounds of disagreement with postmodernism intellectually, but because we believe in using the minimum possible theory in an exposition, and in this case we think that all the necessary ideas can be adequately expressed in plain speech. The moral and political principle behind this stance is analogous to that behind the movement for ‘intermediate technology’, which seeks to develop solutions to the material problems of developing countries using only tools and materials which can be obtained locally – that is to say, without the importing of high technology which would tend to increase economic and political subordination to industrialized countries. The aim is to provide useful assistance in a form which does not lead to exploitative political relationships.

However, for those readers who want to explore how the ideas in this paper relate to postmodernism, we recommend not only the usually-cited Lyotard The Postmodern Condition but also Parusnikova, Zuzana, ‘Is a postmodern philosophy of science possible?’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (1992), 23, 2137, which unusually for a work on postmodernism is not itself written in postmodern language.

4 Porter, Roy, ‘The scientific revolution: a spoke in the wheel?’, in Revolution in History (ed. Porter, Roy and Teich, Mikuláš), Cambridge, 1986, 290316, see 295. Precedents for the concept can be traced back to the eighteenth century; see Christie, John R. R., ‘The development of the historiography of science’, in Companion to the History of Modern Science (ed. Olby, R. C., Cantor, G. N., Christie, J. R. R. and Hodge, M. J. S.), London, 1990, 522, especially 79; also Cohen, I. Bernard, Revolution in Science, Cambridge, Mass., 1985, 51101.

5 For very clear evidence of this in the American context, see Thackray, Arnold, ‘The pre-history of an academic discipline: the study of the history of science in the United States, 1891–1941’, in Transformation and Tradition in the Sciences: Essays in Honor of I. Bernard Cohen (ed. Mendelsohn, Everett), Cambridge, 1984, 395420, especially 402–5.

6 Meyerson, Emile, Identity and Reality, London, 1930; original French edition, 1908. Popper, K. R., The Logic of Scientific Discovery, London, 1959; original German edition, 1935.

7 Thouless, Robert H., Straight and Crooked Thinking, 1st edn, London, 1930. For example:‘A really educated democracy, distrustful of emotional phraseology and all the rest of the stock-in-trade of the exploiters of crooked thinking, devoid of reverence for ancient institutions and ancient ways of thinking, could take conscious control of our social development and could destroy those plagues of our civilisation – war, poverty, and crime’ (244–5). A later example of the association of science and freedom (here construed as opposition to Soviet totalitarianism) is Science and Freedom, London, 1955, being the proceedings of a conference convened by the Congress for Cultural Freedom and held in Hamburg 23–26 July 1953.

8 See, for example, the vision of the far distant future (‘Everytown 2036’) in the 1936 film Things to Come, loosely based on Wells, H. G.'s The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution, London, 1933; the 1934 film Plenty of Time for Play (excerpted in the Open University television programme The All-electric Home written and presented by Gerrylynn Roberts, from the course A282 ‘Science, technology and everyday life 1870–1950’); the BBC television film Time on our Hands, first transmitted in 1963.

9 Thackray, , op. cit. (5), 411.

10 Sarton, George, The History of Science and the New Humanism, Bloomington, 1962, original edn 1930; Huxley, Julian, ‘Scientific humanism’, in his What Dare I Think? The Challenge of Modern Science to Human Action and Belief, London, 1931, 149–77.Snow, C. P.'s The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge, 1959) was also an expression of this view; it is often forgotten that his reason for pointing out the cultural divide between the arts and the sciences was to complain that arts people did not sufficiently understand and respect the sciences. (Snow's ‘scientific revolution’, incidentally, was the change resulting from the application of science to industry, which he dated not earlier than 1920.)

11 Thackray, , op. cit. (5), 401, 408. The identification of science and human thought was also common; for example, ‘it was as though science or human thought had been held up by a barrier until this moment [i.e. until ‘the scientific revolution’]’ (Butterfield, , op. cit. (1), 7, our emphasis).

12 Cambridge, 1954–, i, 11. Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man was commissioned by the BBC as a counterpart to a similarly epic television series on the history of art by Sir Kenneth Clark; Bronowski, J., The Ascent of Man, London, 1973, 13. One may surmise that it was extremely irritating to Bronowski that the title ‘Civilisation’ had already been commandeered by Clark for his subject; but in the event, his own title made an even stronger claim: that the history of science was the history of human evolution (ibid., 19–20).

13 Butterfield, , op. cit. (1), 7, 5.

14 One problem raised by more recent research, which we are not attempting to discuss here, is that the length of ‘the scientific revolution’ has expanded enormously, as everyone has tried to climb on the bandwagon. Now that it has been extended to the end of the eighteenth century in order to include Lavoisier (Butterfield wrote of ‘The postponed scientific revolution in chemistry’; op. cit. (1), ch. 11), and back to the high medieval period to trace the origins of Galilean mechanics (as in the work of Alistair Crombie, following Pierre Duhem), we are faced with a scientific revolution which spanned maybe five centuries. As Roy Porter has nicely put it, compared with Ten Days that Shook the World, this is an extraordinarily leisurely revolution (op. cit. (4), 293).

15 See, for example, Webster, C., ‘William Harvey's conception of the heart as a pump’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (1965), 39, 508–17; Cunningham, Andrew, ‘Fabricius and the “Aristotle project” in anatomical teaching and research at Padua’, in The Medical Renaissance of the Sixteenth Century (ed. Wear, A., French, R. K. and Lonie, I. M.), Cambridge, 1985, 195222; Cunningham, Andrew, ‘William Harvey: the discovery of the circulation of the blood’, in Man Masters Nature: 25 Centuries of Science (ed. Porter, Roy), London, 1987, 6576.

16 A key work here was McGuire, J. E. and Rattansi, P. M., ‘Newton and the “pipes of Pan”’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society (1966), 21, 168–43. See also Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter, The Foundations of Newton's Alchemy: Or ‘The Hunting of the Greene Lyon’, Cambridge, 1975. For current thinking on this subject, see Schaffer, Simon, ‘Occultism and reason’, in Philosophy, its History and Historiography (ed. Holland, A. J.), Dordrecht, 1985, 117–43; and Schaffer, Simon, ‘Godly men and mechanical philosophers: souls and spirits in Restoration natural philosophy’, Science in Context (1987), 1, 5585.

17 The new interest in Merton is indicated by the reprint in 1970 of Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England, New York, originally published in Osiris in 1938; and by Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: The Merton Thesis (ed. Cohen, I. Bernard), New Brunswick, 1990. See also Shapin, Steven, ‘Discipline and bounding: the history and sociology of science as seen through the externalism-internalism debate’, History of Science (1992), 30, 333–69. A leading example of how the ‘Merton thesis’ could be reapplied is Webster, Charles, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine, and Reform, 1626–1660, London, 1975.

18 This was what Biot claimed in his entry on Newton in the Biographie universelle, 2nd edn, Paris, 1854, xxx, 366–404, especially 390 and 401.

19 As Lindberg, David C. and Westman, Robert S. put it in the introduction to their edited collection Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution, Cambridge, 1990, the last twenty years have seen ‘highly focused studies [which] took root and began subtly to undermine the wall on which Humpty Dumpty sat’ (p. xviii).

20 Feyerabend, Paul, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, London, 1975; Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edn, Chicago, 1970. For an interesting exegesis of Feyerabend's much-misunderstood philosophy, see Maia Neto, José R., ‘Feyerabend's scepticism’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (1991), 22, 543–55.

21 Fodor, Jerry, ‘Special sciences, or the disunity of science as a working hypothesis’, Synthese (1974), 28, 77115; Garfinkel, Alan, Forms of Explanation: Rethinking the Questions in Social Theory, New Haven, 1981, ch. 2. We should admit that many scientists, physicists especially, still believe in the possibility and desirability of reduction and unification. For instance Allport, Phil, ‘Still searching for the Holy Grail’, New Scientist, 5 10 1991, 55–6; Allport works in the High Energy Physics Group at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. In this article, he reasserts his commitment to the philosophy of Karl Popper, by contrast with that of Nancy Cartwright, and quotes with approval Gerald Holton, a Harvard professor of physics and historian of science, speaking in 1981 of theoretical physics being engaged in a quest for a Holy Grail: nothing less than ‘the mastery of the whole world of experience, by subsuming it ultimately under one unified theoretical structure’. Interestingly, in view of the religious analogy which we draw in the final section of the present paper, Allport suggests that this ‘monotheorist’ ambition could never have become established without a long tradition of monotheist belief.

22 For the radical challenge, see for example Ravetz, Jerome R., Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems, Oxford, 1971; the Radical Science Journal, which started publication in January 1974. For the feminist challenge, see for example Rose, Hilary, ‘Hand, brain, and heart: a feminist epistemology for the natural sciences’, Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society (19831984), 9, 7390; Harding, Sandra, The Science Question in Feminism, Milton Keynes, 1986. For the environmentalist challenge, see for example The Limits to Growth (ed. Club of Rome), London, 1972; Only One Earth (ed. Ward, Barbara and Dubos, René), London, 1972.

23 Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, San Francisco, 1980.Easlea, Brian, Liberation and the Aims of Science: An Essay on the Obstacles to the Building of a Beautiful World, London, 1973; Witch Hunting, Magic and the New Philosophy: An Introduction to Debates of the Scientific Revolution 1450–1750, Brighton, 1980; Science and Sexual Oppression: Patriarchy's Confrontation with Woman and Nature, London, 1981.

24 For example, Shapin, Steven and Schaffer, Simon, Leviathan and the Air-pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, Princeton, 1985. Even more recently, there has appeared The Scientific Revolution in National Context (ed. Porter, Roy and Teich, Mikuláš), Cambridge, 1992, which unfortunately does not explore the question of what the scientific revolution was or whether it existed at all.

25 Op. cit. (19). The deliberate aim of the collection, and the conference which preceded it, was ‘to offer at least a partial remedy’ for the ‘distressing situation’ of the complete absence of ‘a [general] picture fully consistent with recent developments [in scholarship]’ (pp. xix–xx). ‘Does any unity emerge’ from the articles? they ask rhetorically, and conclude that ‘the reader will have to decide’ (p. xx). If two scholars of such calibre, after several years of effort, can find no unity to put forward, then there is little hope of the rest of us faring any better.

26 Jardine, Nicholas, ‘Writing off the scientific revolution’ (a review of Lindberg and Westman's Reappraisals), Journal of the History of Astronomy (1991), 22, 311–18.

27 This takes its cue from the usage of Hobsbawm, E. J., The Age of Revolution, 1789–1848, London, 1962.

28 For example, Merchant, , op. cit. (23), and Easlea, , op. cit. (23), aimed to rewrite the history of the ‘scientific revolution’ as the origin of the present politically-oppressive way of knowing the world. The recent wave of anti-scientistic writings consistently ascribe to the ‘scientific revolution’ the origin of the scientistic outlook which they criticize; see for example Appleyard, Bryan, Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man, London, Picador, 1992, especially ch. 2, ‘The birth of science’. Mary Midgley's sophisticated and accessible Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and its Meaning, London, 1992, is a partial exception. While she repeats the common view that it was in the seventeenth century that ‘modern science first arose’(p. 1) and that matter began to be regarded as inert and passive, all interesting properties being attributed to God alone, she also relates present-day scientism to the expulsion of God from the investigation of nature in the nineteenth century. ‘It is surely extraordinary that nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers have supposed that they could take over this attitude to matter unaltered, while eliminating the omnipotent Creator who gave sense to it, as well as the immortal soul which took its status from him’(p. 76).

29 Young, Robert M., ‘The historiographic and ideological context of the nineteenth-century debate on man's place in nature’, in Changing Perspectives in the History of Science: Essays in Honour of Joseph Needham (ed. Teich, Mikulàš and Young, Robert M.), London, 1973, 344438.Shapin, Steven, ‘History of science and its sociological reconstructions’, History of Science (1982), 20, 158211.

30 Skinner, Q. R. D., ‘Meaning and understanding in the history of ideas’, History and Theory (1969), 8, 353.Dunn, John M., ‘The identity of the history of ideas’, Philosophy (1968), 43, 85104.Wilson, Adrian and Ashplant, T. G., ‘Whig history and present-centred history’, and Ashplant, T. G. and Wilson, Adrian, ‘Present-centred history and the problem of historical knowledge’, The Historical Journal (1988), 31, 116 and 253–73 respectively.

31 Rudwick, Martin J. S., The Great Devonian Controversy: The Shaping of Scientific Knowledge Among Gentlemanly Specialists, University of Chicago Press, 1985, 14.

32 Collingwood, R. G., An Autobiography, first published 1939, reprinted 1978, Oxford University Press, ch. 5, ‘Question and answer’. A recent development of this philosophical argument is Jardine, Nicholas, The Scenes of Inquiry: On the Reality of Questions in the Sciences, Oxford, 1991.

33 The term ‘Whig’ history derives from Butterfield, Herbert, The Whig Interpretation of History, London, 1931. Unfortunately many people use the term as an all-purpose smear for historiography of which they disapprove, without having read The Whig Interpretation, and occasionally without even being aware of its existence. On this issue we recommend Wilson, and Ashplant, , op. cit. (30). (They propose the term ‘present-centred’ as a more precise and more general substitute for ‘Whig’.)

34 Sadly, there have been virtually no critical discussions of the changing meaning of the word ‘science’. It is probably significant that the most accessible account we know of was not the work of a historian of science: Williams, Raymond, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, London, 1976, s.v. ‘science’. There has been one good study of the word ‘scientist’: Sydney Ross, ‘“Scientist”: the story of a word’, Annals of Science (1962), 18, 6586. This, however, is a good deal less threatening to the discipline; the invention of the word ‘scientist’ can be interpreted in terms of ‘professionalization’ – that is, merely a change in the organization of essentially the same activity.

35 One spectacular instance we have come across is of the title of Newton's 1687 work being rendered into English as ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Science’.

36 See Cunningham, Andrew, ‘How the Principia got its name; or, taking natural philosophy seriously’, History of Science (1991), 29, 377–92.

37 The difficulty of finding a term which conveys the sense of Christian belief typical of early modern people and which informed the natural philosopher's view of the discipline and its subject matter (nature as created by God), but which does not oppose such a position to notions of objectivity, secularity, and science, is itself indicative of the distance of the identity of natural philosophy from that of science.

38 Collingwood, , op. cit. (32), 64.

39 The argument of this paragraph is put in more detail in Cunningham, Andrew, ‘Getting the game right: some plain words on the identity and invention of science’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (1988), 19, 365–89.

40 Hodge, M. J. S., ‘Lamarck's science of living bodies’, BJHS (1971), 5, 323–52.Outram, Dorinda, Georges Cuvier: Vocation, Science and Authority in Post-Revolutionary France, Manchester, 1984.Lenoir, Timothy, The Strategy of Life: Teleology and Mechanics in Nineteenth Century German Biology, Dordrecht, 1982.Porter, Roy, The Making of Geology: Earth Science in Britain 1660–1815, Cambridge, 1977.Cannon, Susan Faye, Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period, New York, 1978, especially the chapter on ‘The invention of physics’. Crosland, Maurice, The Society of Arcueil: A View of French Science at the Time of Napoleon I, London, 1967.Fox, Robert, ‘The rise and fall of Laplacean physics’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1974), 4, 89136.The Invention of Physical Science: Intersections of Mathematics, Theology and Natural Philosophy since the Seventeenth Century (ed. Nye, Mary Jo, Richards, Joan and Stuewer, Roger), Dordrecht, 1992.Lesch, John, Science and Medicine in France: The Emergence of Experimental Physiology, 1790–1855, Cambridge, Mass., 1984.Albury, W. R., ‘Experiment and explanation in the physiology of Bichat and Magendie’, Studies in the History of Biology (1977), 1, 47131.

41 For Britain see Morell, Jack and Thackray, Arnold, Gentleman of Science: Early Years of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Oxford, 1981.Hall, Marie Boas, All Scientists Now: The Royal Society in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge, 1984. On France see for instance Outram, Dorinda, ‘Politics and vocation: French science 1793–1830’, BJHS (1980), 13, 2743; Fox, Robert, ‘Science, the university, and the state in nineteenth century France’, in Professions and the French State 1700–1900 (ed. Geison, Gerald), Philadelphia, 1984, 66145; Fox, Robert, ‘Scientific enterprise and the patronage of research in France 1800–70’, Minerva (1973), 11, 442–73. On Germany see Turner, R. Steven, ‘The growth of professorial research in Prussia, 1818 to 1848 – causes and context’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1971), 3, 137–82; on Berlin, see Shaffer, Elinor S., ‘Romantic philosophy and the organization of the disciplines: the founding of the Humboldt University of Berlin’, in Romanticism and the Sciences (ed. Cunningham, Andrew and Jardine, Nicholas), Cambridge, 1990, 3854.

42 Sec the articles in The Development of the Laboratory: Essays on the Place of Experiment in Industrial Civilization (ed. James, Frank A. J. L.), Basingstoke, 1989; in The Investigative Enterprise: Experimental Physiology in Nineteenth-Century Medicine (ed. Coleman, William and Holmes, Frederic L.), Berkeley, Calif., 1988; and in The Laboratory Revolution in Medicine (ed. Cunningham, Andrew and Williams, Perry), Cambridge, 1992.

43 See, for example, Bilton, Tony et al. , Introductory Sociology, London, 1981, which defines secularization as ‘the process through which religious thinking, practice, and institutions lose their social significance’ (p. 531). The crucial word here is ‘social’.

44 Chadwick, Owen, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge, 1975.

45 On the Laplace story see Hahn, Roger, ‘Laplace and the mechanistic universe’, in God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science (ed. Lindberg, David C. and Numbers, Ronald L.), Berkeley, California, 1986, 256–76.

46 Morrell, J. B., ‘Brewster and the early British Association for the Advancement of Science’, in ‘Martyr of Science’: Sir David Brewster 1781–1868 (ed. Morrison-Low, A. D. and Christie, J. R. R.), Edinburgh, 1984, 25–9; Morrell, and Thackray, , op. cit. (41), especially 6376, 165–75. For an argument that Whewell's entire philosophy was part of a programme to bring the investigation of the natural world back into the service of the Christian God and the established social order, see Williams, Perry, ‘Passing on the torch: Whewell's philosophy and the principles of English university education’, in William Whewell: A Composite Portrait (ed. Fisch, Menachem and Schaffer, Simon), Oxford, 1991, 117–47.

47 Turner, Frank M., ‘The Victorian conflict between science and religion: a professional dimension’, Isis (1978), 69, 356–76.Brock, W. H. and Macleod, R. M., ‘The scientists' declaration: reflexions on science and belief in the wake of Essays and Reviews 1864–5’, BJHS (1976), 9, 3966.Barton, Ruth, ‘The X Club: Science, Religion, and Social Change in Victorian England’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1976.

48 On intellectual transformation and liberalism, see Williams, Raymond, Culture and Society, 1780–1950, London, 1958, especially Introduction and chs. 1–2; Abrams, M. H., The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition, London, 1971; Butler, Marilyn, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760–1830, Oxford, 1981; Turner, R. Steven, ‘The growth of professorial research in Prussia, 1818 to 1848–causes and context’, Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1971), 3, 137–82; Heyck, T. W., The Transformation of Intellectual Life in Victorian England, London, 1982; Harvie, Christopher, The Lights of Liberalism: University Liberals and the Challenge of Democracy 1860–86, London, 1976; Collins, Irene, ‘Liberalism and the newspaper press during the French Restoration, 1814–1830’, History (1961), 46, 1732; Thomas, R. Hinton, Liberalism, Nationalism and the German Intellectuals 1822–1847, Cambridge, 1951.

49 See for example Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence (eds.), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge, 1984.

50 Apparently some people find this claim difficult to countenance; but an argument of this kind was being made as long ago as 1970, by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in the chapter on ‘The invisibility of revolutions’:

Characteristically, textbooks of science contain just a bit of history, either in an introductory chapter or, more often, in scattered references to the great heroes of an earlier age. From such references both students and professionals come to feel like participants in a long-standing historical tradition. Yet the textbook-derived tradition in which scientists come to sense their participation is one that, in fact, never existed. For reasons that are both obvious and highly functional, science textbooks (and too many of the older histories of science) refer only to that part of the work of past scientists that can easily be viewed as contributions to the statement and solution of the texts' paradigm problems [op. cit. (20), 138, our emphasis.]

For some concrete examples of how revolutionary changes have been made invisible by newly-constructed histories, we recommend Functions and Uses of Disciplinary Histories (ed. Graham, Loren, Lepenies, Wolf and Weingart, Peter), Dordrecht, 1983.

51 On the philosophes see Christie, , op. cit. (4), 78; Cohen, I. Bernard, ‘The eighteenth-century origins of the concept of scientific revolution’, Journal of the History of Ideas (1976), 37, 257–88. For the classic expression of the Romantic view of the Greeks, and of the supposed ‘rediscovery’ and emulation of the Greek approach in the Renaissance, see Burckhardt, Jacob, History of Greek Culture, originally published as Griechische Kultur, 1898–1902; and his Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, originally published as Kultur der Renaissance, 1860. On the historical roots of this image of the Greeks see Bernal, Martin, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation, Vol. 1, The fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785–1985, London, Free Association Press, 1987; Ferguson, Wallace K., The Renaissance in Historical Thought, Cambridge, Mass., 1948.

52 For an example of‘Whig’ history of science being deployed for political ends, see Tyndall, John, ‘The Belfast address’, in Fragments of Science, 6th edn, 2 vols., London, 1879, ii, 137203.

53 See Butterfield, , op. cit. (33). See also Bowler, Peter J., The Invention of Progress: The Victorians and the Past, Oxford, 1989.

54 For a perfect example of a Whig politician and historian creating a ‘Whig’ view of the history of the investigation of the natural world, see Lord Macaulay's famous essay on Francis Bacon.

55 As far as Cohen, (op. cit. (4), 97) could find, the term was first used by Kuhn, Thomas S. (‘The function of measurement in modern physical science’, Isis (1961), 52, 161–93, 190). However, the term is now also used in other ways; for example, Brush, Stephen G., The History of Modern Science: A Guide to the Second Scientific Revolution, 1800–1950, Ames, Iowa, 1988, uses it to refer to a late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century revolution, associated with the breakdown of classical physics. One author who as long ago as 1974 saw the change around 1800 as having been something like as fundamental as we are proposing was Arnold Thackray. He pointed out that in the 1750s,

not only was the very name and function of the scientist not yet invented, but science in the sense we know and use the term was unfamiliar to the English-speaking world of the mid-eighteenth century. Natural knowledge certainly existed, and… the period's philosophers or men ‘deep in knowledge’ certainly included many … ‘well-versed in natural philosophy’. But the professional norms, occupational structures, values, goals and rewards associated with the scientist were as unknown as the word. [Our emphasis. ‘The industrial revolution and the image of science’ in Science and Values (ed. Thackray, Arnold and Mendelsohn, Everett), New York, 1974, 3.]

56 There is further discussion of the term ‘invention’ in Cunningham, , op. cit. (39).

57 We think it necessary to make this point explicitly, because the report (in the Newsletter of the British Society for the History of Science) of our original conference paper, on which this present paper is based, suggested that we were attempting ‘to seek transcendent criteria of “modernity”’. We were not. As we hope is now clear, we are not attempting to seek transcendent criteria of anything. In fact, that is exactly what we are arguing against.

58 Excerpt from ‘Little Gidding’ in Four Quartets, copyright 1943 by T. S. Eliot and renewed 1971 by Esme Valerie Eliot, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company, and Faber and Faber Ltd.

59 Strict neo-Darwinian theory, based on natural selection, implies that evolutionary lines branch like the twigs of a bush: a non-linear and non-hierarchical view of evolution (see, for example, Jay Gould, Stephen, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, London, 1989, 2745). Nevertheless, the popular view of evolution is one of a linear, progressive ascent. Peter Bowler has pointed out that it was this view of evolution which prevailed following the publication of the Origin of Species, not the non-teleological view which Darwin's theory of natural selection implied (The Non-Darwinian Revolution: Reinterpreting a Historical Myth, Baltimore and London, 1988).

60 See, for example, Mead, George Herbert, Mind, Self, and Society (ed. Morris, Charles W.), Chicago, 1934; Piaget, Jean, The Child's Conception of Reality (tr. Cook, Margaret), London, 1955.

61 This Christian-centredness is revealed, for example, in the common statement that ‘different religions are worshipping God in different ways’.

62 Smart, Ninian, The Religious Experience of Mankind, New York, 1969, London, 1971; Cupitt, Don, Taking Leave of God, London, 1980; Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, Towards a World Theology: Faith and the Comparative History of Religion, London, 1981; Ward, Keith, A Vision to Pursue: Beyond the Crisis in Christianity, London, 1991; Holm, Jean, The Study of Religions, London, 1977. For both Christian priests and teachers of Religious Education, the practical political problems of living in a liberal multi-cultural (hence multi-faith) society have been an important stimulus to the development of this view. Interesting possibilities for an account of the invention of religion, paralleling our account of the invention of science, are raised by Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, The Meaning and End of Religion, New York, 1962, London, 1978; as John Hick says in his foreword to the 1978 edition, ‘he shows with full historical evidence that the concept of religions, as contraposed ideological communities, is a modern invention which the West, during the last two hundred years or so, has exported to the rest of the world’ (p. xi).

63 The Peters projection is claimed to provide a more accurate representation of the relative size of the Earth's major land areas than the more-familiar Mercator projection, which exaggerates the area of countries further away from the Equator (e.g. Europe). See Peters, Arno, Der Europa-zentrische Charakter unseres geographischen Weltbildes und seine Überwindung, Dortmund, 1976.

64 Much of the literature on the exporting of Western knowledge is based on the assumption that the process has been more-or-less successful; for example, Buck, Peter, American Science and Modern China, 1876–1936, Cambridge, 1980; Bartholomew, James R., The Formation of Science in Japan, New Haven and London, 1989. But interestingly, some recent works have emphasized the difference of the non-Western traditions, hence questioning how completely Western science retained its identity when transplanted. See for example Choudhuri, Arnab Rai, ‘Practising Western science outside the West: personal observations on the Indian scene’, Social Studies of Science (1985), 15, 475505; Science, Hegemony and Violence: A Requiem for Modernity (ed. Nandy, Ashis), Oxford, 1988; Watanabe, Masao, The Japanese and Western Science (tr. Benfey, Otto Theodor), Philadelphia, 1991, original Japanese edn 1976.

65 This paragraph was inspired by Le Guin, Ursula K., ‘The carrier bag theory of fiction’, in her Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, London, 1989, 165–70. See also Rothschild, Joan (ed.), Machina ex Dea: Feminist Perspectives on Technology, New York, 1983. An interesting recent attempt at a ‘big picture’ history from an ecological perspective – i.e. of humanity's changing relationship to its environment, through the development of agriculture and industry – is Ponting, Clive, A Green History of the World, London, 1991.

66 This paragraph was inspired by Rose, Hilary, op. cit. (22).

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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