Charting the Scientific Community

  • Richard S. Westfall
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 151)


Instead of presenting and defending a thesis in this paper, I will describe the research project on which I am engaged. Let me begin first with a brief justification of it. In broad terms, the project is a social history of the scientific community of the 16th and 17th centuries, the period of the Scientific Revolution. The study rests on the premise that the modern scientific community dates from those years as surely as modern science itself does. My goal is to chart the parameters of the social existence of those engaged in the study of nature at that time. The project is not Boris Hessen revisited. Neither for that matter is it Schaffer and Shapin rewarmed. I am doing my best to avoid the question of what caused the rise of modern science. The question appears to me as a trap, or if you will a morass in which historical research bogs down, and instead of illumination we get ideological assertions that determine the conclusions of research conceived for the purpose of supporting them. I am incurably empirical in outlook and uneasy with historical research that departs far from its empirical base. In this study I seek to explore the parameters of the social existence of those engaged in the study of nature during the 16th and 17th centuries; I am not concerned with any hypothesis about the origins of modern science. As I have not failed to recognize, there are points at which the study verges, whatever my intent, toward issues of causation. I am not so sanguine as to think that I succeed any better than others in eschewing apriori judgments in these cases.


Scientific Community Scientific Revolution Private Tutor Technological Enterprise Governmental Official 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard S. Westfall
    • 1
  1. 1.Indiana UniversityUSA

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