The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (book review) Edwin Arthur Burtt

030315: this is a later addition. i can see through this summary how husserl was so interested in putting philosophy on a scientific basis, how he could be, as our entire western culture, so convinced this is the way of thinking not 'theoretical', not 'experimental', but source of way of thinking that describes an ontology of being always already in the world by referring to what we experience. this is 'phenomenon'. this is why husserl calls phenomenology the 'first science'... but this also reflects concerns that by 'mathematization' we are deleting an aspect of life. though in this book there is an awareness of this limiting effect. 'mathematization' is what early continental philosophers contend with, a belief the way of natural science thinking is not the way to understand the world, only as cartesian coordinates of x, y, on a graph. continental thought recognizes how left, right, before, behind, are perspective 'lived world', but all this is a challenge rather than reason to discard analytic science thought unless you are heidegger...


270215 first review: my knowledge of science- as it is defined here, 'natural science' meaning mostly physics- is in many ways advanced beyond my knowledge of poetry, but both as theory, not practice. i have never thought or worked as a scientist. so this is a rating perhaps from experienced ignorance, but it reflects how this work stimulates further interests even as it summarizes how we got to this thought space, that of 'modern science', in opposition to classical greek and roman and its varied strands throughout the middle ages. this is 'western science'. this is itself a historical document, from 1924, and explicates this worldview along the lines of biographies of great men...


starting with copernicus, kepler, galileo, descartes, on to hobbes, more, gilbert, boyle, all leading to newton, this biographical order happens to be that of great ideas, order to much of which i am not familiar. my cosmological history is simply that through the centuries, man has gradually diminished in models of how the universe worked. how qualities of scholaticism were overcome by quantities of science...


i have always had copernicus and kepler conflated- copernicus was more theoretician, bothered that orbits of the planets as defined by ptolemy, with the earth at the centre, required too many circles upon circles. kepler took this idea and searched for experimental evidence, receiving much from tycho brahe. no, with the level of tech available, predictions and descriptions by the heliocentric model were not really more accurate, but the idea had the beauty of simplicity...


galileo is the man who devised tech by which such modern cosmology could be examined, though at least as important, he was the one who could unify the glory, order, eternal beauty, of the heavens, with the rather more messy confusion of our terrestrial world. proving copernicus accurate was not only moving man from the centre, the purpose, the religious duty, of the universe- but also uniting little mankind with the sublime, awesome, patterns of the heavens...


descartes, as the previous names, did some science, but it is his philosophy that resonates, that animates, for the entire history of modern science. famously, he advanced doubt as a method, the first meditation the 'i think therefore i am', and this is perhaps the beginning of displacing a christian god, from the creating and guiding of all the complexities of the universe. physical science promises to do everything by regular laws, though it is not surprising to see these europeans insist god behind it all, even if no longer final cause (why the universe) but only efficient cause (how the universe)...


hobbes and more, leading to gilbert and boyle, are less interesting to me. the only part where physics is not solely the 'modern science' which this book describes the founding, adding some 'physical chemistry'- but primarily this is fascinating to read arguments, hear disputes, between this and that natural philosopher. they had no facebook, but it seems like everyone knew everyone and there was no lack of correspondence... all of which leads to the biggest name, the final name, so dominant the term 'modern science' could be named after him alone, this is where authors of this book most clearly show the rising divide between science and philosophy...


newton is worth the long chapter given him, and certainly i can see how modern scientists can be so impatient if his genius is not acknowledged, for this entire book is a good story, an engaging narrative, and he is here the model of scientist. so there may be some doubt towards his thought, there is apparently some frustration that he, no more than galilleo, wrote little about how he came up with science answering such a wide range of physical experience, wrote little about how he decided what he studied, wrote some rather unscientific work as enthusiastically- this being to aver to god all teleological difficulty, as well as what we consider pseudosciences, like alchemy...


so newton was not perfect. but what he did come up with! starting with his fourfold progression of concepts, his 'rules': simplicity (no more than this), identical causality (same effects must derive from same causes), universality (all like this), validity (empirical truth)... yes, he tended towards philosophy, to metaphysics, when he was not looking... and then through his 'method', which he would not call 'hypothetical deduction' (hypothesis is a big no for newton), by which he came to believe proof of his rules, here three: simplification of what examined (no more than this), mathematization (transforming real into math such as calculus- where i started to discover i would not be a scientist) and experimental verification (not hypothetical but actual)...


this book ends with a modest chapter summing up where metaphysics of 'modern science' has brought us, throughout the world, in all cultures, in the early 20th century not much different from in the early 21st century. the author holds out the promise the story is not yet over, as any work building on it will make a great sequel- though he is writing from 1924, the aspiration to see such remarkable progress in the 'human sciences' still seems current, and likely as frustrated. but then maybe this is what philosophers are for, this is what artists are for...

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if you like this review, i now have website: www.michaelkamakana.com 220611: this is probably the most academically accurate of the translations I have read of this book, but still prefer commentary o