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Chapter IX - THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Peter M. Heimann
Affiliation:
University of Lancaster
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Summary

The activity of science has dramatically transformed society; since 1850 applied science has become the basis of the means of economic production in Europe. While modern society depends on industrial production based on the application of scientific results, the spectacular achievements of science in the last century have led to a transformation in the nature of science itself. The organisation of scientific activity for the generation of useful, practical knowledge has acquired a new meaning and impulse in the twentieth century, a development which has been described as the emergence of ‘industrialised science’, science as an industry producing applicable knowledge. An understanding of the dominance of science in contemporary culture and society demands an analysis of the social and intellectual transformations which led to such striking confidence in the value of the investigation and control of nature and the emergence of science as a socially-organised activity.

The profound conceptual changes in physics in the twentieth century, the abandonment of the doctrines of absolute space and time in Einstein's theory of relativity and of causality and determinism in quantum mechanics, has customarily led to a depiction of the development of science by means of a disjunction between ‘classical’ or ‘Newtonian’ and ‘modern’ science. This historiographic framework is unsatisfactory, for the development of science must be seen in a broader perspective, as a social and cultural phenomenon. The attainment by natural science of appropriate methods of enquiry and social institutions, its methods being viewed as trained and organised common sense and its aims customarily regarded as value-free, is a feature of its recent history.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1979

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