Passionate Knowledge: The Ethics and Politics of the Scientific Revolution

According to common wisdom, the rise of modern science through the 17th century bequeathed democratic beliefs and practices that the New Science: a new trust in human reason and its capacity to attain truth and lead to individual and political peace encouraged the creation of a new arena of civil discourse, in which the passions were suppressed so Reason could rule by arguments and evidence. For both, Reason promised a universal order to be discovered in nature, to be established by law.

This common narrative, however, is a myth, founded on an ideal of science that has little to do with the real practices and commitments of early modern science. As I have shown in recent work, the New Science, for all its spectacular success, did not support such optimism: it presented a universe which was infinitely complex and unruly, and reason which was estranged from the world and prone to devastating errors. It was not Reason but the passions anger, fear, desire, wonder that led humans in their quest for knowledge, justice, and happiness; and order could not be found in nature: it had to be enforced. The historical role of science in shaping the modern state, philosophically and institutionally, requires a new account, which this project is set to provide.

Gal, O., From Divine Order to Human Approximation: Mathematics in Baroque Science. In: Gal and Chen-Morris, Science in Baroque Culture (2012): 77-96.

Research Team:
Ofer Gal