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The Enlightenment And The Development Of Scientific Method Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2390 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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After Greek Civilization happened around 500 B.C., Sophists asserted that human should be aware of themselves and nature as Protagoras declared (Feibleman, 1995). The early philosophical thinking influenced the way people understood and gained the knowledge. The Scientific Revolution, which began in 17th century and associated with some familiar names like Isaac Isaac Newton (1643-1727), Galileo Galileo (1564-1642), had a huge impact on course of science and progress of human knowledge. Most scientific philosophers in that period believed that “reason was the key to a correct method, and the model of reason was mathematics.” (Hankins 2003, p. 2) Before the Enlightenment, people believed the knowledge, all intellectuals and natural world were creations of God’s will, but during the pre-modern period people started to challenge those thoughts existed since 16th century.

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The Enlightenment was a period when the “reason” was regarded as the way leading to true knowledge and several new concepts emerged did had a huge impact on development of scientific method. In 2003, Hankins described that “the Enlightenment was not a fixed set of beliefs but a way of thinking, a critical approach that was supposed to open the way for constructive thought and action.” (Hankins 2003, p. 2)The aim of this report is trying to describe and state the importance of Enlightenment in the development of the scientific method of inquiry. The Enlightenment not only provided scientific disciplines, but also had huge impact on latter development of scientific method.

Part 1 Influential Philosophers and Scientific Method

Influential Philosophers

There were two major early modern thoughts emerged during the period of the Enlightenment: the Empiricism associated with Francis Bacon (1561-1626), John Locke (1632-1704) etc. and the Rationalism associated with René Descartes (1596-1650) etc.

The Empiricism refers to an argument asserted knowledge should be gained from sense experience and it also emphasized on several aspects of scientific knowledge related to evidence. Francis Bacon’s writings “The Advancement of Learning” and “Novum Organon” indicated a clearly features of scientific thinking accessing to the truth should base on observation (Smith, 2003) And he also argued that “the key activity of science as one of demystifying existing false and irrational interpretations of the world around us” (Smith 2003, p. 48) The powerful argument explained us that empirical observation is the way we should start from to gain real knowledge and up to this point he is seem as the “Father of Experimental Philosophy” (Lewes 1867, p. 119) John Locke who developed Bacon’s idea and pursued that the method of acquiring knowledge was to be based on in terms of sense experience. But how can we separate the knowledge gained only by sense experience and the substantive knowledge? On this point Locke developed Bacon’s idea and to some extent had impact on Metaphysics by “dividing propositions into analytic/synthetic distinction” (Smith 2003, p. 60).

The Rationalism which associated with René Descartes refers to a set of argument asserting knowledge result from logical and deductive human reasoning. Descartes made marked contribution on the development of mathematics to discover the application of Algebra to Geometry. And his system indicated that “consciousness being the only ground of certitude, mathematics the only method of certitude. (Lewes 1867, p.145)”

Scientific Method

There was only one the Enlightenment in human history, but there were several steps of construction of science and its method. There is undoubted that the Enlightenment was influenced by various philosophical thoughts, so to understand the relation between philosophy and science and scientific method should be the first step as to gain main target explaining the importance of the Enlightenment on development of scientific method.


Figure – 1 Perspective on the place and role of scientific method

Gauch, G. H. (2003) Scientific Method in Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Online Image] available from: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=iVkugqNG9dAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=scientific+method&lr=&hl=zh-CN&source=gbs_similarbooks_s&cad=1#v=onepage&q=&f=true

Figure 1 gave a clear explanation of relation between philosophy, philosophy of science and scientific method. It is obvious to find that philosophy is grounded by common sense. Philosophy of science is the foundation of scientific method which supports scientific specialties and technology. Lewes provided a good definition of philosophy: “philosophy attempts to explain the phenomena of the universe.” (Lewes 1867, p. xix) The relationship between philosophy and science can be described as following statement: science is the systematization of different generalities achieved according to particulars, and philosophy is the systematization of the generalities of generalities (Losee, 1980). So we could assert that each science associated with philosophy will be the “co-ordination of its highest truths.”(e. g. philosophy of science) (Lewes 1867, p. xix)

The scientific method would be an essential and crucial tool access to revealing the truth through application of two patterns of reasoning which they are: Deduction and Induction. As Toraldo di Francia stated in Gower’s book in 1997 that “a scientific method cannot adequately be discussed if it is divided from the science to which it applies.” (Gower 1997, p. 6-7) The scientific method used in each specific science gradually evolved as what science did. But the period of the Enlightenment had a significant impact on the development of scientific method of inquiry.

Part 2 The significance of the Enlightenment in the development of the scientific method of inquiry

Rosenberg argued “science did not really spring up independently elsewhere before or after its emergence among the Greeks 2500 years ago” (Rosenberg 2000, p. 14). In ancient science, most thinkers never confronted with reality because they believed those findings were all self-disclosed and self sustained. Aristotle “the first philosopher of science” (Losee 1980, p. 6) may be “truly styled the father of the Inductive Philosophy and announce with a completeness and precision not surpassed by Bacon himself.” (Lewes 1867, p. 285) Also as Lewes (1867) stated that Aristotle was the first who arranged speculative questions of discriminate between objective and subjective conceptions of phenomena, and suggested the research. By holding the contrast opinion on Plato, Aristotle searched his basis in sensory perception. His inductive – deductive method gave a view of scientific inquiry that started from observation to explanatory principles by using induction and went back to observation by using deduction (Losee, 1980).

C:Documents and SettingsSophie桌面aristotel.jpg

Figure – 2 Aristotle’s inductive – deductive procedure

Losee, J. (1980) A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Whether we accept it or not, the ancient scientific thoughts were the foundation of the methodology in pre-modern period. Francis Bacon an empiricist in the Enlightenment and Descartes are regarded as the Fathers of Modern Philosophy as Lewes stated (Lewes, 1867). He published a well-known literary Novum Organum in 1620 asserted a new scientific method and replace previous Aristotle’s methodology as Losee (1980) stated. As Bacon said “all merely logical explanations are valueless” (Lewes 1867, p. li), up to this point experience and induction were his reliance. Nevertheless Alexandre Koyré and E. J. Dijksterhuis in Losee’s book (1980) argued that Bacon regarded as an innovator achieved nothing in science, and his critical opinion an inductive-experimental method was not incisive and original one comparing with Aristotelian method. On the contrary, John Herschel declared in Losee’s book (1980) that the task executed by Francis Bacon substituted in Aristotle’s method was stronger and better.

C:Documents and SettingsSophie桌面1.jpg

Figure – 3 Bacon’s “Ladder of Axioms”

Losee, J. (1980) A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

As Figure 3 presented, Bacon’s new method explained scientific procedure should stress on three steps: “gradually, progressive inductions and a method of exclusion” (Losee 1980, p. 64). And to some extent, Bacon agreed with Aristotle’s outline of scientific procedure that the progression in science should start from observations to general principles and back to observations. So Losee (1980) argued Bacon in 1620 also emphasized the inductive scientific procedure which should gradually develop from low degree of generality to inclusive ones. Furthermore, Bacon (1620) demonstrated that “natural and experimental histories” should be the base of the pyramid. Bacon summarized Aristotle’s weakness of inductive – deductive method that did not critically practice collected data and work without enough observations, and provided his own opinion of stressing on practical application of scientific knowledge, nevertheless Lewes (1867) argued Bacon failed in scientific research because he denied the value claimed for methodology.

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The inversion of Francis Bacon’s scientific procedure was announced by René Descartes. Descartes agreed with Bacon’s propositions of pyramid, but hold the opposite opinion to state that the work to seek general laws should begin at the top of the pyramid and go downwards as far as possible by using a deductive procedure. And he also claimed that “any idea which is both clearly and distinctly present to the mind must be true.” (Losee 1980, p. 71) And Lewes (1867) argued that due to Descartes’ argument we could say the Deductive Method was finally and completely constructed.

The impact of Enlightenment on scientific method

The previous methodology in the Enlightenment provided a scientific and philosophical foundation of modern science, and directly impacted Galileo, Newton in their scientific method. Just as Smith (2003) argued that the scientific method provided by Bacon and Descartes established the framework for modern scientific knowledge.

Galileo who made observation of the surface of the sun and four satellites of Jupiter promoted the Method of Resolution and the Method of Composition. He agreed with Bacon’s inductive method and Descartes’ deductive. Let me explain. Just like Losee (1980) said Galileo’s agreement of importance of physical abstraction and idealization extended the inductive techniques. In Method of Resolution, Galileo sampled a series of fluids from observed bodies and gave an extrapolation. Losee (1980) argued that this extrapolation was only based on an ordered phenomenon, but no normal phenomena. And such idealization method makes him emphasize on imagination on the process of scientific procedure. But on the other hand, he also processed deductive method. In the Method of Composition, Galileo suggested the deduction of consequences that hypothesize the “maximum range is achieved at 45 degree” (Losee 1980, p. 55). O’hear (1991) described Galileo’s method had a positive feature in deductive systematization.

Newton directly disagreed with Descartes’ deductive method and supported an examination of phenomena according to people’s generalization. So Newton declared that “Although the arguing from Experiments and Observations by Induction is no Demonstration of general Conclusion, yet it is the best way of arguing which the Nature of Things admits of.” (Newton 1952, p. 404) But on the other hand, he also applied deductive method in famous Optical experiment. So Smith described that “it was creative mix of precise observation and scientific detachment from one’s object derived from Bacon and the assumption of human consciousness as the source of knowledge derived from Descartes.”(Smith 2003, p. 53) Let’s see how Newton argued his Analysis and Synthesis Method and how it applied on scientific procedure.

Newton affirmed Aristotle’s inductive-deductive procedure and opposed this as his Method of Analysis and Synthesis. In order to justify his thought, he agreed with Grosseteste and Roger Bacon in 13th century and Galileo and Francis Bacon in 17th century as O’hear (1991) described. His method fully applied in his famous optical experiment, and find out sunlight is consisted of different colors. He used inductively argued that rays of sunlight have refractive feature, and then he used deductive to justify his hypothesis for further consequences of this theory. Thus he was able introduce his laws of motion and gravitation.


The debates between deduction and induction never stopped, but the Enlightenment was such a crucial period that found the most important argument that any truth and scientific knowledge cannot be achieved without a correct scientific method. And the promotion of those methods was encouraged by several different philosophical scientists with various backgrounds. The reasoning is such a process by using scientific method to investigate new knowledge and revise previous knowledge. If a hypothetical reasoning bases on sense experience, the deductive reasoning is such a process may make the scientific conclusion more reliable and valid. Just like Gower said “the reasoning they require is, in fact, deductive rather than inductive”. No matter which method they would prefer, the significance of the Enlightenment is to establish thinking searching scientific methodology for each scientific course.


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