Thursday, February 27, 2003

I don't want to be too rude about historical theories or even post modernists ones - I like the work of Quentin Skinner, Thomas Kuhn (even though he is wrong), Paul Feyerabend (ditto) and the Annales school. But we must not lose sight of what we are trying to do which is understand the past - not just analyse texts here in the 21st century. The ridiculous idea went around a while back that you had to look at texts in isolation and not try and see them in the context of their own time and motives. We still have to avoid old fashioned positivist history of 'what really happened' and 'how we became civilised'. This is especially important with History of Science where the view of most people is of this wonderful march to modernity as we threw off the shakles of superstition and became rational creatures. Science may be rational enough but the discovery of it was anything but.

We are doing Copernicus in the Renaissance class tonight and I've been reading his De revolutionibus. Quite interesting seeing him combine traditional scholastic ideas that all orbits must be based on circles with the his new idea that they all go around the sun. One thing is clear - neither he nor his editors were worried about ecclesiastical censure. It was his fellow natural philosophers that worried him and not the clergy.

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