The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy
The Genesis of the Concept of Scientific Progress *
HHC - titling added
Journal of the History of Ideas, 6 (3 )
June 1945, 325-349.
The modern scientist looks upon science as a great building erected stone by stone through the work of his predecessors and his contemporary fellow-scientists, a structure that will be continued but never completed by his successors. In this work he wants to cooperate. His object is either the mere theoretical aim of constructing this building, or he follows a utilitarian view, links the progress of science with the progress of civilization, and has in mind the benefit to mankind produced by the practical application of theory. No modern scientist, however, would dare to confess personal advantage or fame as his incentive. This means that science, both in the theoretical and the utilitarian interpretation, is regarded as the product of a cooperation for non-personal ends, a cooperation in which all scientists of the past, the present, and the future have a part. Today this idea or ideal seems almost self-evident. Yet no Brahmanic, Buddhistic, Moslem, or Catholic scholastic, no Confucian scholar or Renaissance humanist, no philosopher or rhetor of classical antiquity ever achieved it. It is a specific characteristic of the scientific spirit and of modern Western civilization. It appeared for the first time fully developed in the works of Francis Bacon.
It was shown by J. B. Bury that before Bacon only scanty rudiments of the concept of progress are found in Western scholarly literature. 1 Since Bury, however, is interested in the idea of cultural rather than of scientific progress, he deals chiefly with statements about the general course of history: his discussion of the pre-Baconian period gives an illuminating analysis of the classical
* This article is part of a study
undertaken with the help of grants from the American Philosophical Society,
1 The Idea of Progress
conception of cultural history but does not investigate the classical conception of science. Moreover, the sociological origin of Bacon’s ideas is not traced in his excellent book. We shall therefore try to show that the modern idea of progress through cooperation stems, like many other elements of modern scientific procedure, from the superior artisans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. To elucidate the social causes of this specifically modern intellectual development we must, for purposes of comparison, give also a brief analysis of the classical concept of science. This introductory account, however, must be restricted to an outline and will be documented elsewhere.
We shall use the term “the ideal of scientific progress” to include the following ideas: (1) the insight that scientific knowledge is brought about step by step through contributions of generations of explorers building upon and gradually amending the findings of their predecessors; (2) the belief that this process is never completed; (3) the conviction that contribution to this development, either for its own sake or for the public benefit, constitutes the very aim of the true scientist. (This conviction excludes personal advantage and personal fame as ultimate aims.) The breakdown in the early modern era of the unrestricted authority of Scripture, of the church fathers arid scholastics, and of Aristotle and classical antiquity, is indeed a necessary condition for the rise of this ideal of scientific progress, but does not yet constitute the ideal itself; it will therefore be discussed only insofar as it is combined with at least one of the more general ideas above. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century the scholastics, Aristotle, the humanistic veneration for antiquity, and Galen were frequently attacked from very different angles without any clear conception of progress. An author’s awareness that his own or a contemporary’s achievements have refuted the doctrines of an authority of the past (e.g., Copernicus vs. Ptolemy) does not yet make him an advocate of the ideal of progress.
1. Science in Classical and Modern Civilization
1. The virtual absence of the idea of progress in classical antiquity is closely linked with the different roles played by science in classical and in modern civilization. While modern education emphasizes scientific instruction, a characteristic combination of metaphysics and rhetoric was the backbone of higher education in classical antiquity. Even in the post-Alexandrian period there
were fewer special sciences and many fewer scientific specialists than in our time. The six or seven distinct sciences which developed were less separated from philosophy on the one hand, and from literature on the other: apart from the “physicists” and historiographers, it was nothing unusual for an outstanding astronomical specialist, like Ptolemy, to begin a highly technical work with an exposition of the aims and divisions of philosophy, or for Hipparchus to engage in polemics with the author of an astronomical poem.
Yet it would be an overstatement to characterize scientific activity in classical antiquity as a merely individualistic undertaking. Classical science had rather reached, approximately, that degree of continuity and cooperation which in our era is characteristic of philosophy. Findings of predecessors were used most systematically by the astronomers, but the fund of undisputed knowledge remained comparatively small, and scientific “schools” combatting or ignoring each other were the rule. This is especially conspicuous in classical medicine. Systematic efforts to organize research were never made and the theoretical achievements were due to a few eminent individuals - as in modern philosophy. There were neither laboratories in which scientists could cooperate nor learned periodicals in which scientific findings could be discussed. No scientific publications, no astronomical or geographical investigations which are the work of several collaborating scientists are known, and even the cyclopedias and compendia of the Alexandrian and Roman period were composed by single polyhistors. 2
This difference in organization also manifests itself in a different intellectual attitude among scholars. It was far from the thought of classical scientists to speak of their publications as “contributions” to science 3 - a phrase characteristic of the modern, non-individualistic concept of research. And in the extant literature it is an exception when a popular treatise predicts that the solution of a problem at present unsolved will be regarded as a
2. The Septuagint is the only
literary product of classical antiquity composed by several authors in
collaboration. - Otto E. Neugebauer explains the absence of “systematic
organized collaboration” through the scarcity of scientists (“Exact Science in
Antiquity,” in: Studies in Civilization
3. Almagest I, 1 (p. 4, Heiberg) is an exception in the extant literature (HHC – Greek quote not reproduced).
triviality by generations to come. 4 The Hippocratic physicians and the astronomers came nearest to the modern idea of scientific continuity. The Hippocratics sought to establish a tradition of knowledge in their corporation and even composed case histories of their patients, which, however, were not intended for publication. And the astronomers composed star catalogues to be used by future scientists. Yet the only passage in the extant literature which clearly expresses the idea of the gradual progress of knowledge, or better, technological skill, occurs in a treatise on artillery. There the author, one Philo of Byzantium (third or second century B.C.), states that the early war machines were rather poor; only the later Alexandrian engineers put artillery on a sound basis “partly by learning from the earlier constructors, partly by observation of later trials.” 5 His remark, brief as it is, expresses the gist of the idea of scientific progress: the method of trial and error used by subsequent generations of experts. Philo however was not a scholar but a military engineer, i.e., a superior artisan with some mathematical knowledge. The Alexandrian military engineers (Philo, the two Ctesibius’, Hero) were never admitted as fellows to the Alexandrian Museum.
These differences between classical and modern science point to and are rooted in the basic fact that in antiquity, in contrast to the modern era, science was for the most part not put to practical use, and hence hardly influenced everyday life. When classical theorists wanted to apply their findings to practical life, they restricted themselves to morals and politics (like most of the philosophers), war machines (like Archimedes), or medicine. A scientific technology was non-existent and apparently not required. Machines were used in warfare and as toys, but except for the simplest ones, never in the production of goods or in traffic. As has been often pointed out, this basic fact is probably accounted for by the existence of slave labor. 6 Classical culture was, moreover, carried
4. Seneca, Nat. quaest. VII, 25 and 31, on the orbits of the comets. Cf. Bury, loc. cit. 13.
5. Bebopoika, ed. Diels-Schramm, Abhandlungen d. kgl. preuss. Akad. d. Wissenschaften (1918), phibos.-histor. Klasse, no. 16, p. 9.
6. Cf., e.g., H. Diels: Antike Technik (3rd ed. Leipzig, 1924), 29-35, 40 ff. More recently a well-documented account of classical technology was given in A. Rehm: “Zur Rolle der Technik in der griechisch-römischen Antike,” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte, XXVIII (1938), 135-162. Rehm’s explanation of the absence of machinery (the great number of metics), however, is not satisfactory.
by a rather thin upper class living on incomes derived from landed property. The intelligentsia and the bulk of the writers were either themselves members of this leisure class or were attached to their households as tutors to their sons and dispensers of prestige. Even the fellows of the Alexandrian Museum were basically court-scholars. Teachers of rhetoric and philosophy, attorneys, physicians, and “architects,” i.e., engineers, were the only professional men. The engineers, however, can compare neither in education nor number nor influence with their modern colleagues. Small wonder, therefore, that the classical concept of knowledge differs from the modern one. With the simplifications unavoidable in a brief survey of a thousand years, one may state that the educated classes of classical antiquity, looking down upon all manual activities, esteemed speech-making and metaphysical speculation more highly than experimentation and dissection, and scarcely overcame a certain disdain for people who, with their hands or otherwise, worked for a living. 7
Civil engineers, scientifically trained civil servants, research workers in laboratories and scientific institutes, could have replaced the individualistic desire for fame of the classical aristocrats and literati with the spirit of cooperation for objective ends. They could have taken over, from the artisans, the aim of gradually increasing knowledge through the method of trial and error. This method and this aim develop easily among craftsmen who have freed themselves from the bounds of the mere workshop tradition. But primitive theorists who have just detached themselves from the traditional mythology everywhere and always want to grasp the universe in a few basic insights. And they are much too convinced of the final truth of their speculations to realize that knowledge progresses only step by step. However sophisticated the later Greek philosophers and scholars were, most of them never completely got rid of conscious or unconscious remnants of this archaic attitude of the lonian seers. There developed various sceptical “schools,” but not the ideals of scientific progress and cooperation. In an aristocratic society without machines but with slaves these ideals could apparently not unfold.
2. The Humanists
2. This sociological analysis of classical science is confirmed by and sheds light on the intellectual development of the early modern
7. Exceptions: Thucydides II, 40, Socrates, the Cynics, Dio of Prusa, and others.
era. For obvious reasons the ideal of the progress of knowledge was foreign to the medieval schoolmen. 8 The Renaissance humanists, the first secular scholars of the modern era, likewise did not stand for scientific progress, since with few exceptions (Beriedetto Accolti, Pico della Mirandola), they considered the classical authors unsurpassable. Viewed sociologically, the humanists were dispensers of prestige who sought by their polished style and their erudition to make their protectors, and themselves, famous. The open admission that fame is the goal of all literary activity appears even more frequently in the humanists than in the classical literati, either because the purely individualistic conception of the literary profession was actually more developed in the Renaissance or only because more literary testaments are extant. One example, relating to mathematics, may illustrate this frankness. In 1621 the French humanist Claude Gaspard Bachet published the first Greek edition of the Arithmetic of Diophantus, dedicated to an influential lawyer. In the preface the humanist explains that, “in honorable emulation for fame,” he is thinking day and night how he might become as famous as his patron. After examining all disciplines he decided to choose mathematics “since it wonderfully delights the mind and since in mathematics the subtlety of the intellect especially comes to light. This Diophantus will give evidence whether I have deserved fame beyond the ordinary mathematicians.” 9 The possibility that the publication might further science is not mentioned. Analogous expressions of glory worship occur very frequently in the more literary writings of the humanists. 10 On the other hand, in the humanist literature of the Renaissance there seems to be no case in which an author states that he is publishing his treatise in order to make further investigations possible. We shall see how differently the contemporary craftsmen express themselves.
8. It was, however, known to the scholastics that, “because of the defects of knowledge of those who first invented the sciences,” the sciences in the course of time increased (augmentum factum est) and that the same is true in practical matters (in operabilibus). Cf. Thomas, Summ. Theol. II, 2, qu. 1, art. 7, obj. 2, and II, 1, qu. 97, art. 1.
9. Reprinted in Beriah Botfield:
Prefaces to the First Editions of the Greek and Roman Classics
10. Examples: Filelfo: Epistolae
It is evident that the individualistic professional ideals of the humanists were incompatible with scientific cooperation. Rivalries, quarrels, and personal intrigues accompanied the literary and scholarly careers of almost all of them. Although after the late fourteenth century literary circles and meetings of humanists became frequent in Italy, there exists in the humanist as little as in classical literature any encyclopedia or dictionary composed by several authors in collaboration. Only the great humanist printers and publishers in Venice, Basel, and Paris who employed numerous classical scholars as editors and proofreaders achieved a certain amount of cooperation among their learned assistants. 11 Printing, however, was a “mechanical” art, and the publishers, though themselves classical scholars, were not literary dispensers of glory but business men. Their printing houses were among the biggest and best organized plants of the sixteenth century.
3. The Artisans
3. In the workshops of the late medieval artisans cooperation resulted quite naturally from the working conditions. In contrast to a monk’s cell or a humanist’s writing chamber a workshop or dockyard is a place where several people work together. On the other hand the guilds stressed the continuity rather than the progress of craftsmanship. The apprentice learned the workshop tradition from his master and was taught to honor it as the master had honored the tradition of his master’s workshop. Rising capitalism and economic competition, however, broke the power of guild tradition. Only the artisan who had either invented some commercial or technological innovation or who understood the value of the invention of another fellow became a capitalistic manufacturer. Thus the inventive genius of the individual gradually came to the fore. The professional ideals of the early capitalistic artisans can be inferred with some probability. As petty manual laborers they could not well strive for literary immortality like the humanists. Social conditions directed them to more impersonal goals. If they wanted to justify their work and their inventions they had to refer to the glory of God and the Saints, of the craft
11. The first of them was Aldo Manuzio. He founded the Neo-Academia in Venice about 1500; most of the members were his assistants. The humanistic “academies” of Ficinus in Florence, of Pomponius Letus in Rome, and of Pontanus in Naples, all of them in the later half of the fifteenth century, held debates and banquets but did not do real research. Cf. Michele Maylender: Storia delle Accademie d’Italia (Bologna, 1926), I, 125 ff.; IV, 249 ff, 320 ff, and 327 ff.
and the workshop - and to the usefulness of their craft and the public benefit.
These ideals are in fact expressed
in several treatises composed by superior artisans, such as artists, instrument
makers, and gun makers. Sometimes
the authors even declared that they intended to further through their treatises
the craftsmanship of their colleagues. Such statements reveal the social origin
of the modern ideal of progress. To
modern ears they may sound rather trivial. We must not forget, however, that in
classical, scholastic, and humanist literature no statements on the necessity of
the gradual improvement of knowledge exist. Naturally only members of the most highly
skilled crafts wrote treatises, and only a few of these craftsmen-authors
conceived the idea of progress with any clarity. Even in the sixteenth century a
considerable number of the manual workers, particularly outside
An early handbook of a secular craftsman was composed about 1400 by the Florentine painter Cennini. It is still imbued with the medieval guild spirit and deals with the making of pigments and. the various techniques of painting; but being the treatise of an artisan it is also concerned with the painting of chests and the make-up of women. It circulated as a manuscript among the painters of the Quattrocento and is, like all similar treatises, written in the vernacular. Cennini composed his booklet as the title or better, incipit, explains, in the reverence of God, the Virgin, and the Saints, “and in the reverence of Giotto, Taddeo, and Agnolo and for the use and profit of any one who wants to enter the craft.” Giotto was Taddeo’s, Taddeo Agnolo’s, and Agnolo Cennini’s master: the author was well conscious of the continuity of craftsmanship. On the other hand Cennini states that he “will also make note of what he has tried out with his own hand.” Although the addition hardly implies the idea of progress, it shows that Cennini no longer considers the mere workshop tradition as sufficient. 13
12. Johann Neudörfer (Nachrichten von Künstlern und Werkleuten [Nürnberg, 1547]; reprinted by G. W. K. Loehner, Quellenschriften zur Kunstgeschichte, X [Vienna, 1875]) discusses two illiterate masters even among the contemporary Nürnberg craftsmen: the locksmith Hanns Bulmann (d. 1549), the constructor of an astronomical clock, and the carpenter Georg Weber (d. 1567), the maker of complex wooden clockwork (pp. 65, 79). They were, however, manifestly exceptions (2 among 111 masters) and their illiteracy is mentioned as a curiosity.
13. Cennini’s Libro dell’ arte, tr. D. V. Thompson, Jr. (New Haven, 1933); chests p. 170, make up 125, “with my own hand” 1. - The Schedula Theophili (11th [century) is composed by a monk, the sketch-book of Wilars de Honecourt (about 1255) was written only for Wilars’ own workshop; in both works progress is not mentioned. For various reasons progress is not mentioned either in a few early modern treatises on the crafts, Ghiberti’s Commentarii (1477), Lionardo’s Book on Painting (e. 1496), Biringueci’s Pirotechnia (1540), and Palissy’s Recepte véritable (1563) and Discours admirable (1580).]
HHC – [bracketed] displayed on p. 333 of original.
Almost a century later (1486) the
printed treatise of a late Gothic master-builder clearly advocates the
advancement of craftsmanship. Mathias Roriczer, an architect of the
A few years before or after Roriczer’s booklet, between 1484 and 1489, a similar but briefer treatise appeared in Nürnberg. It has no title and its author is an otherwise unknown Hans Schmuttermayer of Nürnberg. 15 The author treats not only the same
14. Von der Fialen Gerechtigkeit
(How to build turrets correctly), ed. A. Reichensperger
15. Reprinted with an introduction in Anzeiger f. Kunde d. deutschen Vorzeit, Neue Folge XXVIII (1881), 66-78. The quotation, p. 73.
topic but also has almost the same aims. In the initial lines he states that he is writing his book “for the betterment and adornment (zu besserung und zierungen) of the holy Christian church buildings, to… the instruction of all masters and journeymen who use this high and liberal art of geometry… so that they may better (bass) apply their imagination to the true reason of tracery. And not for my own honor’s sake but rather to the praise of our ancient predecessors and the inventors of this high art.” Although Schmuttermayer must have belonged to the craft it is well established that he was not a member of the masonic guild in Nürnberg where he was born and where also his book was printed. This is possibly an explanation of the fact that he published guild secrets.
While the two architects discussed still belonged to the Gothic style their younger contemporary, Albrecht Dürer, is a representative of the Renaissance. Yet Dürer also was of course, like all the artists of the period, a superior artisan. Dürer wrote three treatises. The first, Unterweisung der Messung mit dem Zirkel und Richtscheit (Instruction in Measurement with Compass and Rule), printed in 1525, deals with problems of practical and theoretical geometry and perspective. In the dedication to his learned humanist protector, the councillor of Nürnberg Pirckheimer, Dürer states that the German painters lack geometrical instruction. He composed the treatise “to benefit not only painters but also goldsmiths, sculptors, stonedressers, cabinetmakers, and all those requiring measurement.” Nobody is forced, he adds as an apology, to use his doctrine. “I know however that he who accepts it will not only get a good start but will reach better understanding by daily practice; he will seek farther (weitersuchen) and find much more (gar viel mehr) than I now indicate.” 16 Even more clearly is the idea of progress expressed in his book On Human Proportion, printed in 1528. The treatise gives extensive quantitative data on the proportions of the human body. In the dedication to Pirckheimer Dürer remarks that some people might blame him, because he, a non-scholar, teaches a subject in which he received no instruction. Yet, “risking slander,” he published the book “to the public benefit of all artists and to induce also other experts to do the same so that our descendants may have something which they may augment and improve, so that the art of painting, in the
16 Ed. Moriz Thausing, Queilenschriften z. Kunstgeschichte III (Vienna, 1872), 55 f.
course of time, may again attain and reach its perfection.” Nobody is forced, he adds, to follow his doctrine everywhere, “for human nature has not yet so weakened that another could not invent something better.” He goes on to point out the importance of original invention and expresses the conviction that the art will again become perfect “as in olden times”; then the German painters will not be inferior to any other nation. 17 Dürer manifestly put weight on cooperation and progress. In a letter to Pirckheimer he expressly requested the humanist to compose his preface to On Proportion so that it would not contain any “talk of glory” (Ruhmredigkeit), and to state that Dürer “begs those having something instructive to say on art, to publish it. ~” 18 Progress, however, is not mentioned in his third treatise, Etliche Unterricht zur Befestigung der Städt, Schloss, und Flecken (Some instruction in the fortification of cities, castles, and towns), printed in 1527. In the dedication to the King of Hungary and Bohemia Dürer only states that the treatise was written “to the benefit of your Majesty and other princes.” 19 Whether the Habsburg was delighted at the idea that other princes also might learn how to fortify their cities is dubious. Two remarks may be added to the three prefaces. Since, in contrast to Cennini, Roriczer, and Schmuttermayer, Dürer had to reckon also with non-artisans as readers, he apologizes for his writing books as a non-scholar. We shall frequently meet with analogous apologies. And it is, secondly, rather improbable that Dürer had ever read the booklets of the two Gothic architects. The fact that he has the same aim, the progress of craftsmanship, is due to the same sociological conditions, and possibly to oral tradition among the craftsmen rather than to literary influence. This applies also to the authors below.
Diirer died in 1528. In the sixteenth century kindred ideas were expressed by several craftsmen, the more clearly expressed the more remote the authors were from guild tradition. In 1547 one Kaspar Brunner, a Nürnberg master of ordnance, previously a locksmith and clock maker, composed a treatise on gunmaking and gunnery. He wrote it, as he states, “for his generation and
17 Ibid., 63 f. Dürer’s opinion that classical painting was “perfect” is borrowed from humanism. Of course no classical painting was known to him.
18. Ibid., 61, items 1 and 7.
19. Ibid., 54.
others to come.” 20 Naturally, this remark is concerned not with fame but with the advancement of gunfounding. Since in the middle of the sixteenth century the technique of gunmaking was still a more or less strictly kept guild secret Brunner did not publish his manuscript but only presented it in four copies to the council of Nürnberg. About 1400 the poem of an anonymous German master-gunner had stressed secrecy; about 1530 the master-gunner of the Duke of Bavaria, Franz Helm, refused, for secrecy’s sake, to publish his handbook on gunnery. On the other hand the Feuerwerksbuch, composed by an anonymous master-gunner before 1425, was printed in 1529 and, in a French version, in 1561. 21 This fading of guild secrecy shows how the idea that technology must be furthered through publication made headway in the sixteenth century.
In 1578 William Bourne of
20. Gründlicher Bericht des Büchsengiessens (Extensive account of gun founding), printed Archiv f. d. Geschichte d. Naturwissenschaften und Technik, VII (1916). The quoted passage, p. 171 fol. 174 b.
21. Cf. Max Jähns: Geschichte d. Kriegswissenschaf ten (München, 1889), I, 382, 384, 408, 591, 608.
22 Loc. cit., Preface to the
Reader, about the end. On Bourne
cf. B. U. II.
HHC – [bracketed] displayed on p. 338 of original.
In 1581 the
4. The Scientific Mechanics
4. The two most important pioneers of scientific mechanics before Galileo, the Italian Tartaglia and the Dutchman Stevinus, were not artisans. Both were familiar with classical mathematics. Tartaglia published from Latin translations Italian versions of Archimedes and Euclid, Stevinus a French version of Diophantus. They had however no academic training but came to science from military engineering and commercial problems. Their writings contain important remarks on scientific progress and scientific cooperation.
Tartaglia (1499-1557) was a self-educated man, the son of a mail coach groom brought up in direst poverty with little instruction. He made his livelihood as a mathematical adviser to gunners
23 The Newe Attractive
and merchants at ten pennies a
question. When his customers gave
him a worn-out cloak for his lectures on
Sixty years later Simon Stevinus
(1548-1620) had a similar, though more successful career. Originally a bookkeeper of the
24. On his youth, Quesiti et
Inventioni VI, no. 8; “ten pennies (scudi),” ibid., III, no. 10;
“function concept,” ibid., I, no. 1 (of. E. Zilsel: “The Genesis of the
Concept of Physical Law,” The Philosophical Review, LI , 264); the
worn-out cloak: Travagliata Invenzione (
25. 2nd ed.
26 Advising gun-founders, Ques. et Inv., I, no. 22 f.; military engineers (architects), ibid., II, no. 9.
colleagues. Once he reports how be learned the technical terms of his profession from dikers, carpenters, masons, and metal workers. 27 He introduced decimal fractions and the parallelogram of forces and first stated the condition of equilibrium on the inclined plane.
Stevinus had the same utilitarian and “progressive” concept of science as Tartaglia. This becomes evident in the preface to his collected papers on applied mathematics, published at the same time in the Dutch original (Wiscontighe Ghedaechtnissen) and in Latin and French versions (Hypomnemata mathematica, Memoirs Mathématiques, 1605-1608). Here Stevinus states that he has published the papers in order to make possible “the correction of his errors and the addition of other new inventions profitable to the public.” He adds two other motives. Through publication he also wants to forestall plagiarists and to further the use of the mother-tongue in the scientific literature of the great nations. 28
Stevinus also advocates scientific cooperation. He points out that at present experiments are lacking, “which are the solid basis on which the arts must be built. For this experience, however, the joint effort and the work of many people are required.” As an example he cites astronomy. One man cannot carry out the necessary observations day and night for years, whereas if several observers collaborate, “the error or negligence of the one is compensated by the accuracy of the other.” Observations of one observer, however good they may be, are always open to doubt and
27. Hypomnemata Mathematica,
I, 41 (Oeuvres Mathem., ed. Girard [
28. Stevinus states (loc. cit.) that, without use of the mother-tongue, “the arts and sciences can not reach the perfection of the learned century.” He believes in the existence of a pre-Greek “learned century” in which science flourished because it was based on experience rather than on belief in authority (Hyp. Math., I, 11 f.; ed. Girard, II, 106 if.). Only scanty remnants of this golden age are, according to Stevinus, extant in the Hermetic literature, but it can be awakened to new life “since human ingenuity has by no means diminished.” Stevinus is convinced that science can and must be steadily improved. He is still ignorant, however, of the progressive interpretation of history and places the golden age of science in the past. Naturally Stevinus did not invent the “learned century” himself; he rather refers for its existence to his scholarly friends, the jurist Hugo Grotius the Elder, and the humanist Joseph Justus Scaliger. From them he also must have picked up the strange esteem of Hermes Trismegistus. His own scientific analyses are strictly mechanistic and entirely free from any influence of occult science - in contrast to nearly all learned natural philosophers of the period.
cannot be accepted as the basis for
a theory by other astronomers. Only
observations of various observers, if they agree well, can be relied upon. This applies to the observations of the
Landgrave William of Hessen and Tycho Brahe. Many observers at many places are
required also because the sky is sometimes overcast at one place. There may arise rivalry among the
observers, each striving to make his observations best; “but only great
advancement for the arts proceeds from this, though ambition also has its
pitfalls.” And what is true for
astronomy is true for all sciences: science, concludes Stevinus, “requires the
joint efforts of many people.” This
is the first detailed exposition of the necessity of scientific cooperation.
29 Tycho Brahe (d. 1591), and Wilhelm IV of Hessen (d.
1592), here mentioned, were the first in
The founder of modern surgery, Ambroise Paré (chronologically between Tartaglia and Stevinus, 1509-90) had a somewhat similar social position to Stevinus. In sixteenth-century Paris there were four groups of medical men: the academically trained medical doctors who wrote in Latin and did not do manual work like operating and dissecting; the “surgeons of the long robe,” organized in the College de Saint-Côme; the corporation of the “barber-surgeons”; and the quacks who practiced illegally without belonging to any guild. The College of Saint-Côme had been founded in the fourteenth century as a corporation of artisans but had in the course of time successfully assimilated itself to the corporation of the doctors, demanding knowledge of Latin from its members and giving up any real medical work. The barber-surgeons remained artisans; they had shops and did shaving, leeching, venesection, and operating. Yet their corporation took care to transmit, under supervision of the doctors and the surgeons of the long robe, a certain amount of anatomical knowledge to the apprentices. Paré, the son of a maker of strong boxes, was as a
29 Hyp. Math., I, 17 f. (ed. Girard II, 111 f.).
youth such an apprentice. In his twenties he worked as a kind of
surgical intern at the only
Paré wrote all his works for his young colleagues. In his first publication, La méthode de traicter les playes (1545), he addresses the preface “to the young surgeons of good will.” He has published the treatise, as he states like Dürer seventeen years earlier, “to stimulate superior minds to write on this subject so that we may all have greater knowledge”; and he concludes with the wish that God to whose honor he is writing may ordain “that some fruit and benefit to the support of the weakness of human life” issue from his labor. His Collected Works, frequently reprinted, appeared first in 1575. In the preface Paré promises that he will give case histories “so that young surgeons may take courage to proceed as or, if they can, better than I do (for it is they to whom I address these writings rather than to the scholars).” And he affirms that he has not spent his life in idleness but working “for the republic, always seeking the advancement of the young apprentices of surgery to whom my writings are addressed.” His interest in the training of his colleagues obviously derives from medieval craft ideals. Paré had however overcome any ideas of guild
secrecy. His colleagues had accused him of having
with his publications given everybody the means of practicing surgery. To this reproach he replies that he “is
extending the gifts given him by God liberally to everybody,” wishing “that
there may be no one who will not become through my writings much more skillful
than I am”; he does not belong to those “who make a cabala of the arts.” Thus he can widen his enthusiasm for his
craft to the ideal of scientific progress. “The arts,” he says, “are not yet so
perfected that one cannot make any addition: they are perfected and polished in
the course of time. It is sloth
deserving blame to stop with the inventions of the first discoverers, only
imitating them in the manner of lazy people without adding anything and without
increasing the legacy left to us… More things are left to be sought after than
have been found.” Paré explains
this idea at length, cautiously but decidedly assailing the overestimation of
classical medicine. God, he states,
“did not give us judgment to let it rot and to stop at the first outlines of the
art drawn by our ancestors.” Usually Paré gives the public benefit,
the benefit of
5. The University Graduates
5. We have studied a number of
artisans, a highly instructed barber-surgeon, and two men with extensive
mathematical knowledge, Tartaglia and Stevinus, who were close to the artisans.
University graduates have not been
discussed. In the sixteenth
century, however, under the pressure of advancing technology the wall which
since antiquity had separated the “liberal” from the “mechanical” arts began to
crumble. In many countries,
29a On the
ested in technological problems.
30 Their treatises are for the most part
written in the vernacular, since they were intended to be used by navigators,
gunners, surveyors, and craftsmen, or at least by their employers, the
merchants, generals, and princes. It is often hard to determine who in
sixteenth-century technological literature gives and who receives the ideas.
Mathematical knowledge stems of
course from the scholars. Actually
the artisans mentioned above, Bourne and
A few anti-individualistic and
“progressive” remarks deserve a more extensive discussion. In 1532 the professor of mathematics at
30. A list of authors in E. Zilsel: “The Sociological Roots of Science,” Amer. Journal of Sociol., XLVII (1942), 554 n.
31. Luca Pacioli’s Summa de
cause they are new, err, for without
new inventions life would return to the state of the ancients who lived lawless
and uncivilized like beasts.” Countless still hidden astronomical facts
could be brought to light if only we did not fail in our zeal for investigation.
The author states that, though an
admirer of classical antiquity, he does not despise the present; he rather is
convinced that Nature is not yet tired and effete and is still able to produce
praiseworthy things. In the
following year Apian published an enlarged version of the booklet in German
since, as he states, he often found better mathematical understanding among
laymen than scholars. Here he
affirms that he has invented his quadrant “to benefit the whole of Christianity
and almost the whole world.” He
also promises further treatises on measuring instruments since, “as the proverb
states, I am not born to myself alone but also to those with and after me.”
32 Professor Apian (1495-1522) was a skillful mechanic.
After his graduation from the
In 1570 the Dutchman Abraham Ortelius made a not unimportant contribution to the development of scientific method in his atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Ortelius wanted, as the preface states, to benefit the students of geography rather than to aspire for fame through the works of others. He therefore gave a list of about eighty cartographers and maps used in his book. The writings of the scholastics and humanists abound with references to previous authors. Yet the list of Ortelius is the first extensive bibliography in modern scientific literature. Although bibliographical lists are not the cornerstone in the building of science
32 Quadrans Astronomicus
they too manifest the modern idea of
scientific cooperation. Ortelius
(1527-98) was a map-maker, a dealer in maps and antiquities, and became imperial
geographer to Charles V. In his
youth he had been, together with the engravers, painters, and the renowned
In 1595 Ortelius’ friend, Gerard
Mercator, stated in his Atlas that in the composition and arrangement of
his work he kept his eye on the benefit of the republic; “we are not born to
ourselves alone but the Creator ordered us to live for the common weal.” Mercator (1512-94) studied at the
The progress of knowledge was proclaimed as a controlling scientific and philosophical program by Francis Bacon (Advancement of Learning, 1605; Novum Organum, 1620; De Augmentis Scientiarum, 1623). Bacon emphasizes also the importance of scientific cooperation. In his New Atlantis (1627) he describes an ideal state ruled by a body of scientists organized, according to the principle of division of labor, in nine groups. Technological and physical laboratories and agricultural stations are at the disposal of the scientists. Such institutes for research were unknown in Bacon’s lifetime. There existed only observatories, which of course were not affiliated with the universities but were establishments of rich scholars (Tycho Brahe) or princes (William IV of Hessen, emperor Rudolph II). Bacon’s scientific ideas were in
33. Cf. Biogr. Nat. Beig.
34. Mercator’s remark in the
introduction to the maps of
marked contrast to the program of the contemporary universities; he himself set up the “mechanical” arts as a model for the scientist.
Bacon’s ideas have been so often set forth that another discussion would be superfluous. It has however not been noted that his idea of progress through cooperation appeared before him in the sixteenth-century literature on applied mathematics, navigation, and cartography. The question of Bacon’s literary sources is of minor importance. Since he was not interested in mathematics and quantitative investigation he probably did not read treatises on measuring instruments. On the other hand, it seems improbable that a scholar at the court of Queen Elizabeth, where so much was done for the promotion of navigation, should not at least have been in touch with the scientific tradition of Recorde, Digges, and John Dee. These however are merely biographical questions. What really matters is the sociological origin of Bacon’s ideas. Bacon and Stevinus did not know each other. Yet Stevinus’ plea for scientific cooperation appeared a few years before the New Atlantis. And Tartaglia and Robert Norman, Apian and Mercator held utilitarian views on science and deliberately worked for the gradual advancement of knowledge, whether Bacon knew their books or not.
Manifestly, the idea of science we usually regard as “Baconian” is rooted in the requirements of early capitalistic economy and technology; its rudiments appear first in treatises of fifteenth-century craftsmen. However, it makes a considerable difference whether notions are advanced in prefaces and casual remarks or whether they are presented as a philosophical platform to revolutionize the whole of science. Bacon used the ideas of his “predecessors” as a battering ram against scholasticism and humanism and was the first to develop their philosophical and cultural implications. The concept of scientific progress was known before him, the ideal of the progress of civilization begins only with Bacon. On the other hand, Bacon fell considerably behind the military engineers and cartographers in the understanding of scientific particulars. 35
35. In Campanella’s utopia,
Civitas Solis (composed in 1602, published in 1623) there are public
museums but no institutions for research. Scientific progress and cooperation are
not mentioned. They are not
mentioned either in Campanella’s interesting account of his scientific aims,
De libris propriis et recta ratione studendi [syntagma (composed
in 1632, published in 1642; ed. Spampanato,
Perhaps the clearest statement of the ideas the genesis of which we have been considering, is found eleven years after Bacon’s death in the Cartesian Discourse on Method (1637). 36 In his matter-of-fact style Descartes here explains why he has published “the little that he has found.” He wants, as he puts it, “to induce intelligent men to try to advance farther by contributing, each according to his inclination and ability, to the necessary experiments and by also publishing all their findings. Thus the last would start where their predecessors had stopped and, by joining the lives and the work of many people, we would all proceed much farther together than each would have done by himself.” Manifestly this procedure, advocated by Albrecht Dürer a hundred and fifty years before, was not yet a matter of course in the Cartesian period. It is noteworthy that this passage is not a casual remark. It concludes a lengthy explanation of the author’s reluctance to communicate his ideas to the public. Descartes states that he would never have published his ideas so long as they concerned only the “speculative sciences”; when, however, he saw that his new method would revolutionize physics also, he considered its concealment a violation of the law enjoining furtherance of the common weal upon us. With the help of this method, he adds, we shall understand the actions of fire, water, and all other bodies “as distinctly as we understand the various trades of our artisans, and by application of this knowledge to any use to which it is adapted we could make ourselves masters and possessors of nature.” Wherever in the seventeenth century the idea of scientific progress through cooperation appears, the application of science to technology is also emphasized. The modern textbooks on the history of philosophy often disregard these Baconian traits in Descartes.
The further development of the concepts of progress and scientific cooperation is familiar. Soon after Bacon’s death his program was put into effect, to a large extent under the direct influ-
36. Oeuvres (Adam-Tannery), VI, 63.
ence of his writings, in scientific
organizations and periodicals. The
Academy of the Lynxes in
37. On the first scientific societies and periodicals, of. primarily Martha Ornstein: The Robe of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century, 3rd ed. (Chicago, 1938). Recent additions in: Harcourt Brown: Scientific Organizations in 17th Century France (Baltimore, 1934), and “Martin Fogel e l’idea Accadernica Lincea,” Reale Accad. Naz. dei Lincei, Scienze Morali, Rendiconti, VT/11, (1935), 814 ff.; Giuseppe Gabrielli: “Il Carteggio Linceo,” ibid., Mem., VT/1 (1925), 137 ff. and VT/7 (1938/39), 1ff., and “Le Schede Fogeliane,” ibid., Rendiconti, VT/15 (1939) 141 ff.; Francis R. Johnson: “Gresham College, Precursor of the Royal Society,” Journal of the History of Ideas, T (1940), 413 ff. Michele Maylender: Storia delle Accademie d’Italia, 5 vols. (Bologna, 1926); Robert Morton: “Science and Technology in the 17th Century,” Osiris, IV (1938), 360 ff. (on the Royal Society). A sociological analysis of the precursors of the modern scientific organizations and of the first books composed by several authors in collaboration will be published elsewhere.
We have tried to show that this concept made its first appearance in the intellectual attitude of superior artisans. In classical literature similar ideas appear in the treatise of a maker of war-machines. In antiquity, however, they were not taken over by scholars; in early modern capitalism they were. It would be interesting to investigate the Arabic, Persian, Indian, and Chinese literatures. It is not impossible that in these cultures also superior artisans advocated in technological treatises the gradual progress of craftsmanship - if they wrote any. Such ideas were certainly not adopted and developed by the oriental scholars, theologians, and literati. The absence of slavery, the existence of machinery, the capitalistic spirit of enterprise and economic rationality seem to be prerequisites without which the ideal of scientific progress cannot unfold.