The Scientific Revolution


Traditionally, the ‘scientific worldview’ is said to have originated in Western Europe in 1543, when Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies was published in Vienna — a book that not only introduced much of literate Europe to the notion of a ‘heliocentric universe’, but was also contrary to Aristotelian teaching. In 1686, Newton published his Principia, which put a final nail in the coffin of Aristotle's physics. The 143-year period between these two publications is usually known as the Scientific Revolution.

The label ‘Scientific Revolution’ is not meaningless – the 16th and 17th centuries indeed witnessed a dramatic intellectual transition, as we indicated in Chapter 1 – but for the following reasons it can mislead:

  • Copernicus and his successors inherited the tradition of Classical learning that had continued, transmuted but unbroken, through the Islamic golden age and late mediaeval Europe (see Chapter 4 and below).

  • European views of the natural world had not become entirely ‘modern’ by Newton’s time.

  • Most importantly, the process of change was underpinned by a wider cultural transformation.


Natural World Scientific Revolution Planetary Orbit Natural Philosopher Printing Press 
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