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SKEPTICISM AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY

How was skepticism related to the scientific revolution?

The reemergence of ancient Greek skepticism toward the end of the Renaissance was not, at first, related to the rise of scientific inquiry. Rather, Catholic and Protestant theologians used skepticism as a tool to further argue their positions during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and Catholics also used it to affirm mysticism and simple faith as the paths to real knowledge.

How did skepticism further arguments for faith and mysticism?

When there were contending religions, each side would apply skepticism to the knowledge claims of the other. The Catholics used skepticism to disprove the claims about knowledge of God made by the Protestants, and the Protestants did the same thing to the Catholics. The result was that each side ended up extolling its own type of faith, rather than the knowledge claimed by the other side. (This use of skepticism to elevate faith and mysticism had its roots in Islamic philosophy, specifically in the writings of Abu Hamid al-Gazali [1058-1111]). As the two-sided religious skeptical debates wore down, the modern form of skepticism, which supports observation and the scientific method, came into wide use.

Who were the natural philosophers?

"Natural philosophy" was the term used to describe what we now call science. The key players in the scientific revolution, beginning with Galileo (1564-1642) and ending with Isaac Newton (1643-1727), were called "natural philosophers" and were revered as geniuses by philosophers of their day. The lines between scientific inquiry, philosophical theories of knowledge, and philosophy of science were not clearly drawn until these "natural philosophers'" discoveries and theories helped define them.

How were early modern and modern philosophy related to the scientific revolution?

Much of early modern empiricist philosophy, as developed by John Locke (1632-1704) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), was directly inspired by the scientific revolution. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) had proposed that science could be used for the betterment of mankind and that was also René Descartes' (1596-1650) dream. However, both Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704) took a practical and strictly empirical approach to knowledge that was closer to the science of their day than either Bacon or Descartes' views. The scientifically grounded empiricism of Hobbes and Locke was later refined by David Hume (1711-1776) and codified by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

Who were the philosophical rationalists?

The philosophical rationalists believed that there was a priori knowledge about the world, or general truths about the world known by the mind, without experience. This was in contrast to the empiricist insistence that all of our knowledge about the world was based on experience, sensory information in particular. The seventeenth century philosophical rationalists, such as René Descartes (1596-1650), were opposed to the intellectual methods of the empiricists, but they still took science into account in their philosophies. Descartes was actively involved in scientific exploration and experimentation throughout his philosophical career. In the late-eighteenth century, David Hume's (1711-1776) empiricism posed a special problem for Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) because Hume (1711-1776) applied skepticism to basic beliefs that many had taken for granted before him, such as the existence of God and the powers of natural causes to bring about their effects. In the nineteenth century, modern reactions against empiricism took hold in the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), and early existentialist philosophers, such as Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). These reactions shared a concern for the validity of a priori truths and religious knowledge.

 
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