Histographical Essay

Histographical Essay-70
Though there were Protestants who criticized Copernicus, most notably Martin Luther, The Jesuits rejected the Copernican system and continued to foster Aristotelian philosophy; they stood by the Catholic Church in the Galileo affair; consequently, in this narrative, they were counted among the evil Catholics.During the last several decades in particular, this narrative of revolution has been questioned.The Jesuit educators had to be well-trained in these mathematical sciences, and in order to teach them well they had to practice them.

Though there were Protestants who criticized Copernicus, most notably Martin Luther, The Jesuits rejected the Copernican system and continued to foster Aristotelian philosophy; they stood by the Catholic Church in the Galileo affair; consequently, in this narrative, they were counted among the evil Catholics.During the last several decades in particular, this narrative of revolution has been questioned.

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According to Peter Dear, work by Jesuit scholars on astronomy and optics helped foster the idea of experiment in the seventeenth in part their Aristotelian roots: “The Aristotelian model of a science adopted by the Jesuits took scientific knowledge to be fundamentally public: scientific demonstration invoked necessary connections between terms formulated in principles that commanded universal assent.” Dear studied the work of the Jesuit scholars Giuseppe Biancani (1566–1624) and Christoph Scheiner (1573–1650) and noted that they “employed techniques designed to incorporate recondite, constructed experiences into properly accredited knowledge about the natural world,” thereby turning experience into experiment.

Both Heilbron and Dear show Jesuits working within a non-Copernican context in astronomy and an Aristotelian tradition in philosophy and yet participating in early modern advances in science in important ways.

As they were a very well-educated group involved with many of the intellectual trends of their day, one would expect that the Jesuits would have also been involved with new trends in science of the day, and such an assumption is correct.

However, it took a long time for the mainstream historiography of early modern science to begin to recognize the Jesuit contributions.

Historians have begun to realize that the focus on Aristotelian philosophy could still be useful, and contributions to the study of science, even in astronomy and physics, could be made without adopting Copernican astronomy.

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They have begun to understand that progress in unraveling the secrets of the natural world resulted not just from the work of a few giants but also from lesser individuals and from groups.In this period subjects that are anathema to today’s scientific community—magic, astrology, alchemy—were studied and accepted as valid scientific pursuits.They included other subjects, like cartography and chronology, in their study of nature.It had begun when historians of medieval science insisted that the term “medieval science” was no oxymoron and proved it was worthy of study: there were many important innovations in medieval science and technology and much continuity between the Middle Ages and later periods.As most of the intellectuals of the Middle Ages were Catholic clergy or educated by them, this also showed that the Catholic Church was not inherently against progress in science.On the other hand, scholars who focused on early modern science began to notice not just the continuities with medieval science but also the often vast differences between their subject and modern science.They have pointed out how the use of the terms “science” and “scientist” was anachronistic, for early modern scholars studied natural philosophy in the universities, and there was no professional class of scientists.One of the leading observers was Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625–1712), after whom NASA’s spacecraft mission to Saturn was named.Cassini was not a Jesuit, but he studied with them, and Heilbron made the case that he pursued his career in astronomy because of them.Schott used the pump to experiment with atmospheric air and ignored the issue of the vacuum.This is another instance of Jesuits contributing to the advancement of science within their Aristotelian context.

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