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The Cultural Authority of Natural History in Early Modern Europe

The Cultural Authority of Natural History in Early Modern Europe

Chapter:
(p.11) Chapter One The Cultural Authority of Natural History in Early Modern Europe
Source:
Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins
Author(s):
Peter Harrison
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226608426.003.0002

This chapter examines the transformation of natural history in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, focusing on three aspects of change. First was how all of the new sciences during the seventeenth century sought to establish their social legitimacy in the face of competing Aristotelian approaches to the natural world and humanist priorities. Those who were in favor of the new sciences argued that, compared with the Aristotelian sciences, they could better promote the moral and religious goals associated with the traditional humanist education. Second was the attempt to further justify scientific endeavors by expanding the traditional goals of scholarship and learning, with a greater emphasis on providing material benefits to society. In this regard, the new sciences were again touted as superior to Aristotelian approaches. Third was how natural history itself was repositioned in the hierarchy of the disciplines that deal with the study of nature, moving from the margins of intellectual life and emerging as a serious systematic and scientific activity with a central role in the whole scientific enterprise.

Keywords:   natural history, Europe, new sciences, natural world, Aristotelian sciences, humanist education, nature, intellectual life

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