The History of Science from Augustine to Galileo Paperback – 28 Mar 2003
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A definitive history leading up to and through the Scientific Revolution which has been compared to the rise of Greek philosophy, and the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire. Crombie (U. of Oxford) surveys scientific stalls and advances from the Middle Ages to the full flowering of science in the 17th century. This second edition is the
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Crombie covers a huge amount of material and huge number of writers. Reading this book I was delighted to be introduced to a new cast of characters that I didn't already know from earlier reading in the history of science: Adelard of Bath, Albertus Magnus, Pietro d'Abano, Jacopo Zabarella, Agostino Nifo, Jordanus Nemorarius, Gerard of Brussels, Giovanni Battista Benedetti; and although I have heard the names William of Ockham (Occam's Razor), Jean Buridan (Buridan's ass) and Nicole Oresme (the harmonic series diverges), they had only been names without any ideas of when they lived or the topics they wrote about.
In Aristotelian physics there were ideas like natural and violent motion that seem strange to us. But we also have ideas that are not precise. For example, try to give a precise definition of force without merely stating Newton's second law; if you can't, then isn't Newton's second law merely a definition of force? In this case, the fact that we have what may be two equivalent notions that have no precise difference which yet we treat differently could be confusing for someone in the future who reads about our physics.
This book would be particularly useful for someone doing work on the history of models in science. In Volume I, Chapter III, Section 2, Crombie describes writing of Aquinas, Bernard of Verdun and Giles of Rome about constructing hypotheses that account for observed facts.
A bold writer might write a biography of Roger Bacon or William of Ockham, either academic or semipopular (at the level of David Bodanis's "Passionate Minds"). I doubt there is enough information about their lives for a book about either of them to hang together as a typical biography, but either could be used as a focus around which to wind a story about medieval science. ("More Than a Barber: A Biography of William of Ockham".)
"The great idea recovered during the 12th century, which made possible the immediate expansion of science from that time, was the idea of rational explanation as in formal or geometrical demonstration; that is, the idea that a particular fact was explained when it could be deduced from a more general principle."
"The formulation of the Aristotelian 'law of motion' metrically as a function [velocity proportional to motive power over resistance], so that it became quantitatively refutable, was an achievement of the greatest importance, even though neither Bradwardine nor any of his contemporaries discovered an expression that fitted the facts or indeed applied any empirical quantitate test." (p. II.70)
This makes no sense. Nothing is added to the verbal expression by turning it into a formula.
In what sense did the law suddenly become "quantitatively refutable" by this transformation? Obviously not because it enabled Galileo-style objections based on joining bodies of different weights, since such objections were raised already in Antiquity (p. II.65). Nor because it drew attention to the case resistance=0 or the possibility that the force caused no motion, since these cases was discussed in detail by Aristotle himself (p. II.62-63).
Crombie's answer is cryptic: "Using his metric formulation, Bradwardine was able to show" various things, most notably "Bradwardine argued that Aristotle's law meant that if a given ratio p/r produced a velocity v, then the ratio that would double this velocity was not 2p/r but (p/r)^2" (p. II.71). Why on earth would (p/r)^2 double the velocity? This claim is nowhere in Aristotle. Apparently Bradwardine "argued" that it is implicit in Aristotle, but we see no trace of this alleged "argument." It seems to me that the mistaken belief that (p/r)^2 doubles the velocity was in fact introduced by mathematics rather than eliminated by it. Crombie has no evidence that any error of this kind was ever committed in the pre-"metrical" period.