Professor publishes article on how we apply the term "science"
November 16, 2011
WAUKESHA, WIS.— Dr. Scott E. Hendrix, assistant professor of history at Carroll University, recently published an article in the peer-reviewed Teorie vedy / Theory of Science: Journal for Interdisciplinary Studies of Science. “Natural Philosophy or Science in Premodern Epistemic Regimes? The Case of the Astrology of Albert the Great and Galileo Galilei” is a historical analysis of the role of the study of astrology in the Medieval and early modern periods, and an argument that the term “science” should be used sparingly prior to the 17th century.
Hendrix argues that appropriate terminology is important to accurately understand the history of science, avoiding “confusion about what historical actors were actually doing and where their intellectual pursuits fit within their own cultures, as well as in any history of the development of knowledge.” He compares astrology and astronomy pursued by Albert the Great (d. 1280) and Galileo Galilei (d. 1642) to demonstrate the necessity of precise language in historical epistemology.
Our modern understanding of science as a set of techniques and methodologies of examining the world did not develop until the 17th century, Hendrix explains. In the Middle Ages, science was based on logic problems, not data gathering, modeling or testing. In the days of Albert the Great, people believed that “divine order was infused in every part of the cosmos,” Hendrix said, and astrology was a “cutting-edge natural philosophy.” By the 17th century, Galileo’s work more closely followed the process of modern scientists, including mathematical modeling, demonstrative experiment and analysis.
Hendrix cautions that modern scholars should very carefully consider what the historical actor was doing before applying the term “science” and our modern connotations of rational thought, mathematical process and empirical testing. He writes, “Ultimately, what is at stake is not only the risk of imprecision, but a sort of modernist chauvinism that threatens to undermine any attempt to understand the past.”
A resident of Waukesha, Hendrix joined the Carroll faculty in 2007. His research focuses on understanding belief systems within the historical and social contexts in which they develop, with an emphasis on the history of science.
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