What was the Scientific Revolution?

What Does Scientific revolution Mean

It is known by the name of Scientific Revolution to the drastic change in the model of thought that took place between the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries , in the West, during the early Modern Age. It forever transformed medieval views on nature and life . It laid the foundations for the emergence of science as we understand it today.



The Scientific Revolution was born in Europe at the end of the Renaissance . It was the result of new ideas in physics , astronomy , biology and chemistry , and with them the change in the philosophical paradigm produced by the social and intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment .

The exact dates of appearance of this phenomenon are debatable, but the year 1543 is generally taken as its starting point , when the masterpiece of Nicolás Copernicus De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (“On the movements of the celestial orbs”) was published.

In the same way, its end is traditionally marked in the year 1632 , when Galileo Galilei published his Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistema del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano ("Dialogues on the two greatest systems of the world: the Ptolemaic and the Copernican"), or with the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia in 1687.

It can serve you: Ancient science

Background to the Scientific Revolution

For the Scientific Revolution to occur, it was necessary to overcome the obscurantism typical of the medieval era , during which faith and religion ruled the thought of the West with an iron fist. The first step was when the classical legacy of Antiquity was recovered , especially of the Greco-Latin culture. To this was added the contribution of medieval Islamic science .

For this, the appearance of the printing press in the 15th century was also necessary , which allowed the massification and democratization of knowledge. In addition, the bourgeoisie emerged as a new social class that transformed the world. This class of merchants, of commoner origin but important material possessions, succeeded in abolishing the feudal order .

As it gained power , the bourgeoisie forced the aristocracy to loosen its rules, and weakened the Church's fierce grip on culture . However, many of the thinkers of the Scientific Revolution suffered persecution by the Catholic Inquisition, as is the famous case of Galileo, who was forced to publicly retract his revolutionary ideas.

On the other hand, the thought of the Greek philosopher Aristotle was in force at the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. The Aristotelian influence was one of the most difficult to break , especially his conception of the cosmos as a space in which the Earth occupied the central place.

Thanks to the contributions of Eudoxus of Knidos and Claudius Ptolemy, a new vision of the cosmos was able to take shape in the work of Nicolaus Copernicus, thus giving rise to the heliocentric model and a new era of thought.

Protagonists of the Scientific Revolution

Francis Bacon founded empiricism in the Scientific Revolution.

The main names of the Scientific Revolution were:

  • Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). A Polish Catholic jurist, mathematician, physicist and cleric, he devoted much of his life to astronomy , reformulating in his own way the Heliocentric theory of the Solar System , initially formulated by Aristarchus of Samos. With the publication of his work on the movement of the stars, he began the Scientific Revolution, contravening centuries of repetition of the Aristotelian geocentric model.
  • Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Italian astronomer, physicist, musician, mathematician and engineer, he is the great example of the Renaissance man, dedicated equally to the arts and sciences . He was an important astronomical observer , for which he also improved the manufacture of telescopes, and is famous for his decisive support to the Copernican formulation of the Solar System. He is considered the father of modern physics .
  • Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Physicist, theologian, philosopher, alchemist, inventor and English mathematician, author of the first great treatise on modern physics, his Philosophia naturalis principia mathematica or "mathematical principles of natural philosophy", a work that revolutionized the physical understanding of the world and laid the foundations for the emergence of this science. His principles of motion , his thermodynamic laws, and his formulations regarding optics and the infinitesimal calculus are still being put into practice .
  • Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). Danish astronomer, considered the greatest observer of the sky before the invention of the telescope and founder of the first center for astronomical studies, Uraniborg. His work made it possible to consolidate the astronomical study in a systematic way and not through occasional observations.
  • Johannes Kepler (1571-1630). German astronomer and mathematician, famous for his laws on the motion of the celestial stars in their orbit around the Sun , he was a close collaborator of Tycho Brahe and one of the fundamental names in modern astronomy.
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Famous English philosopher, politician, lawyer and writer, considered the father of philosophical and scientific empiricism, since in his work De dignitate et augmentis scientiarumn (“On the dignity and progress of science”), he described and laid the foundations for the construction of the experimental scientific method . He is one of the great pioneers of modern thought and one of the first essayists in England.
  • René Descartes (1596-1650). French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, father of modern philosophy , analytical geometry , and one of the greatest contributors to the Scientific Revolution. His principle cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am") is famous , which would be essential in the emergence of rationalism, faith in reason and not in the divine will. His most famous work is the Discourse on Method (1637), where he clearly broke with the traditional scholasticism of the Middle Ages.
  • Robert Boyle (1627-1691). Natural philosopher, Christian theologian, chemist, physicist and inventor of English origin, famous for his formulation of Boyle's Law, one of the principles that govern the behavior of gases. He is considered the first modern chemist in history, and his work The Sceptical Chymist ("The Skeptic Chemist") is a fundamental work in the history of this discipline.
  • William Gilbert (1544-1603). Natural philosopher and English physician, pioneer in the study of magnetism , as evidenced by his work De Magnete (1600), the first book on physics in England. He was one of the pioneers in the study of electricity from electrostatics , and a fierce opponent of the scholastic method and Aristotelian theories in the Universities of the time.

Consequences of the Scientific Revolution

The Scientific Revolution marked an important break with the medieval tradition that, above all, demonstrated the human capacity to apply the intellect to the understanding of the world . It allowed the birth of rationalism and modern thought, which displaced medieval faith as the ruling principle of human life and society.

But perhaps the greatest consequence that it had was the formal birth of the sciences, framed in the scientific method and rationalist empiricism. This implies a radical transformation of the world of ideas, allowing the reappearance of knowledge that until a century ago was part of Islamic alchemy and heretical knowledge.

Contributions of the Scientific Revolution

Body dissection allowed a greater understanding of the human body.

The contemporary world would have been impossible without the Scientific Revolution. Among his main contributions to the understanding that we have today of the universe , are:

  • The heliocentric model of the Solar System. Through the calculation and observation of the firmament with increasingly refined telescopes, the first astronomers showed that the Earth is not the center of the universe around which the Sun revolves, but rather the Sun is the center of the Solar System and around he rotates the planets , including the Earth. This knowledge broke with the religious cosmological order that prevailed during the Middle Ages, and that came from Aristotle himself.
  • Support of atomism over Aristotelian theories of matter. Aristotle thought, in ancient times, that matter was a continuous form and that it was made up of four elements: air , fire, water and earth, in various proportions. This idea prevailed during the Middle Ages, despite the fact that Democritus, another ancient philosopher, had already formulated the atomic theory . The latter was, during the Scientific Revolution, rescued and improved.
  • Advances in human anatomy and dismissal of Galen's theories. For more than a thousand years the studies of the ancient Galen ruled medical knowledge in the West, until the Scientific Revolution arrived. New experiments , dissections and studies applying the scientific method and with new measuring instruments , allowed a better understanding of the human body and laid the foundations for modern medicine.
  • Separation of chemistry from alchemy. The chemistry formally born during this period, thanks to the first scholars in the field as Tycho Brahe, Paracelsus and Robert Boyle, among others.
  • Development of optics. Optics was a huge advance of the Scientific Revolution, which resulted not only in better knowledge of the behavior of light , but also in better inputs for scientific research , such as telescopes and microscopes , which allowed the observation of distant stars and the microscopic particles .
  • First experiments with electricity. William Gilbert was one of the first to engage in experimentation and recording of electrical principles, even inventing the Latin word electricus , derived from elektron ("amber" in Greek). Thus he discovered the electrical properties of many different materials, such as sulfur, wax or glass, and made enormous advances in electricity and magnetism , which founded entire fields of study of physics.
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