The Intelligibility of Nature: How Science Makes Sense of the World

University of Chicago Press, 15 . 2008 . - 254 .
Throughout the history of the Western world, science has possessed an extraordinary amount of authority and prestige. And while its pedestal has been jostled by numerous evolutions and revolutions, science has always managed to maintain its stronghold as the knowing enterprise that explains how the natural world works: we treat such legendary scientists as Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein with admiration and reverence because they offer profound and sustaining insight into the meaning of the universe.

In The Intelligibility of Nature, Peter Dear considers how science as such has evolved and how it has marshaled itself to make sense of the world. His intellectual journey begins with a crucial observation: that the enterprise of science is, and has been, directed toward two distinct but frequently conflated endsdoing and knowing. The ancient Greeks developed this distinction of value between craft on the one hand and understanding on the other, and according to Dear, that distinction has survived to shape attitudes toward science ever since.

Teasing out this tension between doing and knowing during key episodes in the history of sciencemechanical philosophy and Newtonian gravitation, elective affinities and the chemical revolution, enlightened natural history and taxonomy, evolutionary biology, the dynamical theory of electromagnetism, and quantum theoryDear reveals how the two principles became formalized into a single enterprise, science, that would be carried out by a new kind of person, the scientist.

Finely nuanced and elegantly conceived, The Intelligibility of Nature will be essential reading for aficionados and historians of science alike.

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The intelligibility of nature: how science makes sense of the world

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Cornell historian of science Dear (Revolutionizing the Sciences) here looks at central developments in Western science since the 16th century in terms of intelligibility versus instrumentality. His ...

Science as Natural Philosophy Science as Instrumentality
1
1 The Mechanical Universe from Galileo to Newton
15
The Classification of the World
39
3 The Chemical Revolution Thwarted by Atoms
67
The Origin of Species
91
The Aether and Victorian Machines
115
6 How to Understand Nature? Einstein Bohr and the Quantum Universe
141
Making Sense in Science
173
Notes
197
Bibliographical Essay
207
Index
235

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27 - That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to. another, is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man, who has iu philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it.
113 - There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
36 - But to derive two or three general principles of motion from phaenomena, and afterwards to tell us how the properties and actions of all corporeal things follow from those manifest principles, would be a very great step in philosophy, though the causes of those principles were not yet discovered. And therefore I scruple not to propose the principles of motion above mentioned, they being of very general extent, and leave their causes to be found out.
35 - And the Aristotelians gave the Name of occult Qualities, not to manifest Qualities, but to such Qualities only as they supposed to lie hid in Bodies, and to be the unknown Causes of manifest Effects...
112 - In the literal sense of the word, no doubt, natural selection is a false term ; but who ever objected to chemists speaking of the elective affinities of the various elements? and yet an acid cannot strictly be said to elect the base with which it in preference combines.
34 - These Principles I consider not as occult Qualities, supposed to result from the specifick Forms of Things, but as general Laws of Nature, by which the Things themselves are form'd: their Truth appearing to us by Phenomena, though their Causes be not yet discover'd.
133 - The conception of a particle having its motion connected with that of a vortex by perfect rolling contact may appear somewhat awkward. I do not bring it forward as a mode of connexion existing in nature, or even as that which I would willingly assent to as an electrical hypothesis. It is, however, a mode of connexion which is mechanically conceivable, and easily investigated, and it serves to bring out the actual mechanical connexions between the known electro-magnetic phenomena...
127 - The explanation of all phenomena of electro-magnetic attraction or repulsion, and of electro-magnetic induction, is to be looked for simply in the inertia and pressure of the matter of which the motions constitute heat. Whether this matter is or is not electricity, whether it is a continuous fluid interpermeating the spaces between molecular nuclei, or is itself molecularly grouped ; or whether all matter is continuous, and molecular heterogeneousness consists in finite vortical or other relative...
33 - Seeing therefore the variety of Motion which we find in the World is always decreasing, there is a necessity of conserving and recruiting it by active Principles...
27 - You sometimes speak of gravity as essential and inherent to matter. Pray do not ascribe that notion to me, for the cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know, and therefore would take more time to consider of it.

 (2008)

Peter Dear is professor of science and technology studies and history at Cornell University. He is the author of Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 15001700 and Discipline and Experience: The Mathematical Way in the Scientific Revolution, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.