Science is one of the aspects that have completely transformed the lives of human being, especially from the eighteenth century. The world now depends wholly on science (Panek 2000, p. 87). Empiricism and rationalism have made major contributions to the emergence of scientific perspective, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
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According to Shapiro (1992, p. 26), empiricism is a theory which holds that experience in the source of knowledge. In essence, experience is the source of our knowledge and concepts. Rationalism on the other hand, has been defined by Sheldrake (1994, p. 34) as any view or set of knowledge that is appealing to reason. Rohmann (1998, p. 63) defines rationalism as a theory which holds that the criteria of truth is viewed from the deductive and intellectual front and not sensory perspective.
The two concepts are apparently contradictory when it comes to ascertaining the source of knowledge. While empiricism holds that sense of experience is the decisive source of all the concepts and knowledge of mankind, rationalism argues that the knowledge and concepts are gained through reasoning and it is very independent of experience.
The two schools of thought, though differ on their concepts, agree on the fact that knowledge has specific source. This paper seeks to analyze critically the contribution of empiricism and/or rationalism to the emergence of the scientific perspective in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
This paper seeks to critically discuss the contribution of empiricism and rationalism to the emergence of the scientific perspective in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The Emergence of Scientific Perspective in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century
Anthony (2005, p. 32) defines science as the application of knowledge to solve various environmental problems that man encounters in life. Given this definition, it would be true to say that science has been on existence since time immemorial (Wilber 2000, p. 39). Scientific perspective started gaining shape in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century (Loye 2004, p. 9).
The science evolved and by the eighteenth century, many philosophers had come out strongly to define the source of knowledge (Panek 2000, p. 28). There has been a need to explain the source of scientific knowledge. According to Goleman (1986, p. 11), scientific perspective emerged several years ago, but it was greatly developed in early eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
There are two approaches, as explained below, that have been developed to explain the source of knowledge, especially the scientific knowledge. While some scholars such as Brumbaugh (1981, p. 20) strongly hold that empiricism is the ultimate source of the modern knowledge, especially in the field of science, others such as Huff (2003, p. 32) insists that rationalism is the ultimate source of knowledge. Those who believe on rationalism hold that any piece of knowledge must be looked at from a rational approach.
The knowledge must take the form of normal reasoning. This means that the reasoning should be justifiable with respect to the rationality. Inayatullah (2002, p. 56) says that human being is rational and therefore the knowledge that is developed by him or her must be based on a specific reasonable point.
However, this point of reasoning appears to contradict what the empiricists think. This school of thought holds that knowledge would be said to be valid when it can be practically proven. This is especially so when dealing with any scientific knowledge. The knowledge would therefore be said to be valid only if they can stand the test of experience. It should be in a position to hold its principles not only in paper, but also under a real life situation (Panek 2000, p. 87).
Contributions of Empiricism to the emergence of scientific perspective in the eighteenth century
The term science comes from the Latin word scientia, which means knowledge. Jardine (2000, p. 46) defines science as systematic enterprise which organizes and builds knowledge in testable explanation form. This definition of science brings out two very important features of science.
The definition states that the given source of knowledge must be testable. This definition also states that the knowledge must be systematic. These two factors are the essence of empiricism. A science, unlike other disciplines, must be testable. Kuhn (1970, p. 10) says that scientific knowledge would only be considered to be true if only it can be put into practice under a normal context.
During the eighteenth century, the world was first developing its knowledge of science (Rohmann 1998, p. 63). People were getting more and more concerned with the need to have machines and tools that were in position to respond to various needs within the society. There was also the need to understand the body system, the diseases that affect it and how to keep it safe from the infections and diseases. The only answer to most of the emerging societal trends was science.
Empiricism has been considered as the genesis of the modern day science. During the eighteenth century, science was fast developing, with many organizations sponsoring various scientific researchers (Nelson 1991, p. 67). Many scholars came up with various scientific theories to explain certain scientific phenomenon in the society as well as how best man could manipulate them.
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However, as would be expected, some of the sentiments were valid while others could not stand the test of reality (Habermas 1984, p. 89). This brought the need to test the theories for their ability to stand the test of practicality. Scientists therefore started to prove their theories using systematic perspective in order to be in a position to prove various aspects in life as practical.
Kafatos&Kafatou (1991, p. 7) say that it is empiricism that strongly proposed the importance of testability and systematic approach to handling facts and knowledge. Laura and Leahy (1988, p. 89) agree with this statement, and say that for any knowledge to be valid, its principle must hold in a practical set up.
The empiricism gained popularity in the late eighteenth century and the whole of nineteenth century. As Loye (2004, p. 9) states, empiricism became the face of the science. Most of the scientific concepts were based on the empirical principles. Some scholars such as Shapiro (1992, p. 42) have insisted that science has its basis on empiricism.
Rationalism in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century
In the 18th Century, rationalism took a new shape, in what was referred to as enlightenment (Sheldrake 1994, p. 17). In other words, the period was popularly termed the age of reason whereby people applied scientific methods in analyzing events, for instance in interpreting human behaviour.
Scientific rationalism was characterized by scientific method, which was the basis of enlightenment. In the new age of reason, scholars and other scientists Thomas Hobbes believed that for there to be development in industrial sector, egalitarianism had to be adopted for there to be actual development.
For instance, governments had to open up to pave way for capitalism (Maddox 1999, p. 67). In the same period, there was mass production of goods at a reasonably cheap price, movement of goods and people was easy and social mobility was through education (Habermas, 1984, p. 10).
Cultural institutions were criticized for putting too much pressure on individuals to live according to divine teachings, particularly the church, which was in charge of scientific discoveries in many parts of the world (Panek 2000, p. 87. Due to rationality, many scholars changed their religious perspectives, by adopting Deism, a form of religion that does not subscribe to the teachings of major world religions such as Christianity (Goleman, 1986, p. 8).
In the political front, scientists criticized political leaders openly, without the fear of punishment. The government became represent meaning that it represented the public good, not the interests of few elites in society. In fact, public opinion was incorporated into the mainstream governmental decision making process (Owusu-Bempah&Howitt 2000, p 23). The government had to consult experts such as political scientists before making critical decisions, such as a decision to engage in war.
One scholar by the name Francis Bacon is usually cited as the founder of the modern rationality in the eighteenth century. Bacon contributed in the establishment of inductive method, which was used in the scientific method. He suggested that all scientific inquiries had to follow a certain procedure.
In the 17th century that is, in 1687, Isaac Newton came up with some concepts that changed scientific reasoning to date. Newton became a real scientist who based his ideas of data collection and testing, just like Galileo. Newton contributed much to the establishment of classical mechanics.
He based his scientific research on universal gravitation and particularly on the three laws of motion. Newton found out through research that the movement of objects on earth and in heaven were directed by a similar set of natural laws. Through research, Galileo brought about changes in the study of the telescope.
The scientists at the time were opposed to the teachings of the church, which angered many church fathers to an extent of suggesting the abolition of science. With enlightenment, the views of rationalists were adopted by many people, which affected the lives of political and religious leaders. Citizens could no longer be pacified through false teachings since they knew the truth (Nash 2005, p. 26).
Through scientific methodology such as deduction and induction, scholars could analyze situations and events scientifically hence arriving at informed decisions that would help in the formulation of policies (Inayatullah 2002, p. 78). It is should be noted at their point that rationality affected political structure of society.
The discoveries of science changed the way of people reasoned politically. Educated members of society such as economists and professors believed that democracy and human freedom were some of the fundamental human rights that had to be granted unconditionally. Political leaders such as the president as well as religious leaders such as the pope had no powers to infringe on the rights of citizens (Nelson 1991, p. 33). In this regards, each individual was to be given equal chance to fulfil his or her potential.
The state or the government had to provide an enabling environment that would help individuals fulfil their potentials. Due to rationality, leaders were subjected to scrutiny since their effectiveness was measured through the levels of reasoning. Good leaders, who applied scientific reasoning in their policy making mechanisms, could reason out on the ways of improving life (Wilber 2000, p. 47). As this suggest, leaders were expected to be people of high integrity and had to be educated.
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