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What is philosophy?

Philosophy is the study of the big question: what is the nature of existence, knowledge, truth, beauty, and justice? Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing these questions (such as mysticism or mythology) by its critical, systematic approach – it relies on reasoned argument. The word is of Ancient Greek origin: φιλοσοφία (philosophía), meaning “love of wisdom.”

Scientific Revolution Ancient Greek thinkers The School of Athens by Raphael

The School of Athens is one of the most famous frescoes by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, painted around 1510 CE, in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. (adapted from Wikipedia)

What is the philosophy of science?

The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, and implications of science. Two central questions about science are (1) what are the aims of science and (2) how ought one to interpret the results of science?

What is the philosophy of mathematics?

See the philosophy of mathematics.

Why study philosophy?

Where does philosophy come from?

Many Greek thinkers expressed ideas that, today, we would call scientific.

Aristotle wrote about astronomy, physics, biology, geography, and many other fields.
His greatest contribution was the idea that people should observe the world carefully – and draw logical conclusions about what they see.


Another Greek thinker was Ptolemy (Tahl-uh-mee), an ancient astronomer. He recorded his observations, and offered theories to explain what he saw.

The Greek thinkers were rationalists, people who looked at the world in a rational, or reasonable and logical, way.

During the Middle Ages, religious philosophers studied theology, science, mathematics, and classical Greek philosophy.  The Middle Ages – medieval period – lasted roughly from the 5th to the 15th century: from the fall of the Western Roman Empire, to the Renaissance.

In this era, the writings of Socrates, Aristotle, Ptolemy and others were rediscovered by Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars. These religious scholars were impressed with the logical, rational analysis of the world by the early Greek and Roman philosophers.

Scholars created a synthesis of science, logic, and reason with faith.  This way of thinking is called philosophical rationalism, or Scholasticism.

Some of the Christian scholastics include:

Thomas Aquinas (“Doctor Angelicus”)
Duns Scotus (“Doctor Subtilis”)
William of Ockham (“Doctor Invincibilis”)

Some of the Jewish scholastics include:

Gersonides, Levi ben Gershon
Maimonides, Moses Ben Maimon

Some of the Muslim scholastics include
Ibn Rushd, known by his Latinized name, Averroes (“The Commentator”)
Ibn-Sīnā. Known by his Latinized name, Avicenna.

Ibn al-Haytham (aka Alhazen) 965 CE- 1040 CE, Egypt.  Early proponent of the scientific method, during the Golden Age of Arabic science. Did early experimental work in light, vision and optics.

The seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them,
the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency.
Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself, as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.

– ‘Aporias (Doubts) Concerning Ptolemy’. Ibn al-Haytham Brief life of an Arab mathematician, Abdelhamid I. Sabra


The Renaissance

14th-17th century, Europe.

During the Renaissance, Europeans studied the works of Greek rationalists. As a result, they began to view the world in a rational way. They began to think like scientists.
European scholars could study ancient Greek writings because of the work of others.
* Muslim scholars translated Greek writings into Arabic. They studied them for centuries and added their own new ideas.
* Later, Arabic versions were translated into Latin, which was read in Europe. This preserved ancient knowledge and spread interest in science.

Latin from Arabic Surat Yusuf Koran

Thomas Erpenius, Latin translated from Arabic: fragment of Sūrat Yūsuf (Koran, surah 12) in types copied from Granjon’s by Erpenius (Leyden, 1617)

Thomas Erpenius, Latin translated from Arabic: fragment of Sūrat Yūsuf (Koran, surah 12) in types copied from Granjon’s by Erpenius (Leyden, 1617)

The scientific revolution

“In the 16th and 17th centuries a new way of gaining knowledge of the natural world developed. This period is now known as the Scientific Revolution. The Scientific Revolution did not just fall out of the air; rather it was the result of scientific study made by scientists from numerous places over hundreds of years.”
– Roots of the Scientific Revolution, Mr. Kash
When did the Scientific Revolution Begin?
During this era:
* When Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) Published his ‘On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres’ 1543
* Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) published ‘On The Structure of the Human Body’ in 1543
* Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691) is regarded today as the first modern chemist, and a pioneers of the modern experimental scientific method.
* Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) made important astronomical discoveries, and developed the laws of motion for falling bodies, using quantitative experiments which he analyzed mathematically.

Learning Standards

Mathematics: Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks

Common Core Mathematics Standards 

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

Understandings about the Nature of Science (Crosscutting Concepts):  Science knowledge has a history that includes the refinement of, and changes to, theories, ideas, and beliefs over time.

Science Is a Human Endeavor:  Scientific knowledge is a result of human endeavor, imagination, and creativity. Individuals and teams from many nations and cultures have contributed to science and to advances in engineering.

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

The roots of Western civilization: Ancient Greece, C. 800-300 BCE.
7.34 Describe the purposes and functions of development of Greek institutions such as the lyceum, the gymnasium, and the Library of Alexandria, and identify the major accomplishments of the ancient Greeks.

WHI.33 Summarize how the Scientific Revolution and the scientific method led to new theories of the universe and describe the accomplishments of leading figures of the Scientific Revolution, including Bacon, Copernicus, Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, and

World History I Learning Standards: Scientific Revolution and The Enlightenment in Europe
WHI.33 Summarize how the Scientific Revolution and the scientific method led to new theories of the universe and describe the accomplishments of leading figures of the Scientific Revolution, including Bacon, Copernicus, Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton.

Next Generation Science Standards
Connections to Nature of Science: Science Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena.
A scientific theory is a substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment, and the science community validates each theory before it is accepted. If new evidence is discovered that the theory does not accommodate, then the theory is generally modified in light of this new evidence. (HS-ESS1-2),(HS-ESS1-6)


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