tottering Aristotle: the web spinners

Great examples of the illustration of the new age of science. Francis Bacon’s The Great Instauration followed a century of immense activity in the sciences, after discoveries in astronomy by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler and galileo; after Gilbert’s experiments with magnetism; and after Vesalius introduced scientific disciplines to the study of anatomy. And the new discoveries caused the Aristotelian authority to totter in the sixteenth-xcentury. The old system could not encompass the new science. In the 1580’s Michel Eyquem de Montaigne’s Essays began, unsystematically but energetically demolishing the last vestiges of Aristotle’s influence.

Read More: ---The frontispiece of Epistolarum, which Tycho Brahe published himself in 1596, shows the famous mural quadrant used for his observation. Credit: Science Source---

It was left to two men, Francis bacon and Rene Descartes, to raise a new philosophical structure suited to the new discoveries. Bacon provided a methodology of empiricism; Descartes offered mathematical reasoning and rationalism. For the next few centuries, philosophers would struggle to reconcile Bacon and Descartes; and, although Cartesian philosophy overshadowed Bacon throughout the seventeenth-century, our own age is decidedly Baconian. Three books prepared the way for Bacon’s The Great Instauration: Brahe’s correspondence on astronomical instruments, Kepler’s statements of the three laws of planetary motion, and Montaigne’s Essays…

Read More: ---Werner Heisenberg:Ideas similar to those of Kepler have been put forward in an essay by Pauli. He writes: The process of understanding in nature, together with the joy that man feels in understanding, i.e., in becoming acquainted with new knowledge, seems therefore to rest upon a correspondence, a coming into congruence of preexistent internal images of the human psyche with external objects and their behavior. This view of natural knowledge goes back, of course, to Plato and was…also very plainly adopted by Kepler. The latter speaks, in fact, of Ideas, preexistent in the mind of God and imprinted accordingly upon the soul, as the image of God. These primal images, which the soul can perceive by means of an innate instinct, Kepler calls archetypes. There is very wide-ranging agreement here with the primordial images or archetypes introduced into modern psychology by C. G. Jung, which function as instinctive patterns of ideation....Kepler's Third law, published in 1619, had a dedication page with figures to whom Kepler felt he owed some scientific debt.---

Bacon never claimed originality for what became known as inductive reasoning. What he did seek to do with his new use of induction was to avoid the sterile logic of the Aristotlean schoolmen. Since this type of thought has virtually vanished from the modern world, we forget that education, in Bacon’s day, was largely confined to metaphysical argument along with the reading of Greek and Roman classics. The techniques of logic, in other words, were being expended upon abstract controversy, while nature itself passed largely unexamined. Men, to paraphrase bacon, were spinning webs out of their own substance. To recapture reality it would be necessary to bring speculation into conformity with reality, to ascend from genuine facts to deductions and to avoid hasty and unsubstantiated theory.

Image: The title page of the 1632 English edition of Montaigne's Essays bore an aura of the rationalism then dominating philosophy.

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