"Wherefore, dearest son,
whom God has made wholly happy in this regard, in so far as those
things are offered freely, for which many at the greatest peril of life
plough the sea waves compelled to endure hunger and cold, or which others,
wearied with long servitude in the schools and not exhausted by the desire
of learning, only acquire with intolerable labour-be eager and anxious to
look at this little work on the various arts, read it through with a
retentive memory, and cherish it with a warm affection. If you will
diligently examine it, you will find in it whatever kinds and blends of
various colours Greece possesses: whatever Russia knows of workmanship in
enamels or variety of niello: whatever Arabia adorns with repoussť or cast
work, or engravings in relief: whatever gold embellishments Italy applies
to various vessels or to the carving of gems and ivories: whatever France
esteems in her precious variety of windows: whatever skilled Germany
praises in subtle work in gold, silver, copper, iron, wood and stone."
--Theophilus, An Essay Upon Diverse Arts, c. 1125 (early Medieval
text in Metallurgy)
Belief in an orderly creation
designed by God provides the necessary framework for science as a
discipline to arise. Such a belief offers a picture of the world as
regular, predictable, and uniform. Likewise, the world is considered knowable by
human beings and worthy of investigation.
The stress on applying reason to
natural problems, as opposed to an unthinking acceptance of tradition,
also prepared the way for science to develop.
As strange as it may sound,
medieval alchemy helped prepare the way for some aspects of scientific
reasoning. The alchemists' stress on formal methodology, their work
with chemicals, and the process of elimination of possibilities paved
the way for more exacting procedures.
translations into Latin (Adelard of Bath, Gerard of Cremona),
including Euclid's Elements, Aristotle's Physics,
Ptolemy's Almagest, created a strong interest in natural
descriptions of the universe and eventually gave rise to observations
that would disconfirm the assertions of Aristotle and Ptolemy in
regard to physics and cosmology.
Medieval university (stadium
generale) curriculum included geometry, arithmetic, music,
astronomy, natural philosophy and eventually medicine.
Natural philosophy became
an important element in the work of theologians, such as Albertus
Magnus, John Pecham, and Theodoric of Freiberg.
Key Scientific Concepts
Precise measurement of time (Bede
of Northumbria) was a necessary precursor of scientific study.
The adopting of Arabic
numbers by the 13th century made modern mathematical study possible.
Mathematical treatment of
problems (Thomas Bradwardine), including astronomy, was associated
especially with the work of the Merton College "calculators"
of the 1330-1340's and spread to the University of Paris.
A stress on mathematics as
key tool for explaining the natural world, as well as a stress on observation,
hypothesis, and verification (Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon)
foreshadowed Renaissance and Early Modern procedures.
Ockham's Razor states
that "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity" (entia
non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem), meaning that
procedural simplicity should be preferred in a hypothesis. Unnecessary
assumptions only compound a theory with the potential for error. The
idea is that theories should be as simple as the evidence allows; this
doesn't preclude the introduction of complexity in a theory when
Scholastic views on
contingency, necessity, and causality were important precursors, as
Some, though by no means a
majority, rejected final causes
in natural philosophy and accepted degrees of certitude as necessary
in scientific exploration (John Buridan).
The philosophical debate
surrounding the annihilation of matter and
the concept of an infinite void of space prepared the way for
seventeenth-century theories of Newton and others.
provided a large vocabulary for future scientific thinking:
"potential, actual, substance, property, accident, cause,
analogy, matter, form, essence, genus, species, relation, quantity,
quality, place, vacuum, and infinite" (Grant 198).
Likewise the medieval
treatment of "counterfactuals," "natural impossibilities,"
or "thought experiments" allowed for speculations that would
call into question Aristotelian physics (Grant 196).
Technological advances, including
percussion drilling, glass mirrors, windmills, compasses,
wheelbarrows, and blast furnaces.
Advances in optics,
theories of light and color
Advances in harmonics and
Advances in metallurgy
Causes and effects of
motion [dynamics and kinematics] (14thc. Paris and Oxford)
(intensio) versus longitudo qualitatis (extensio)
[intensity of a quality vs. quantity of a quality distributed]
Nature" from Adelard of Bath (MR 620-626)
Why does Adelard begin this
selection decrying English vices?
What do you find intriguing or
surprising about the list of causes Adelard includes?
How does he contrast authority and
What are some of his claims about
the nature of bodies?
Ancient Theory of the Bodily
Science" from Roger Bacon (MR 626-635)
How does Bacon distinguish
reasoning and experience? Why does he prefer the later?
Why does even mathematics need experiential
Why does he distinguish
experimentation and revelation?
What surprises you about the
examples he provides?