Science and the Enlightenment

Why was there such doubt about the veracity and stability of scientific knowledge during the Enlightenment? See pages 96-98 especially.

There was such doubt about the veracity and stability of scientific knowledge during the Enlightenment because there was a tension between a desire to understand the natural order of the world and the knowledge that nothing that we could learn about the natural order of the world was beyond doubt. People challenged the concept of reasoning causally by arguing that “nothing guarantees that causal reasoning produces truth” (Outram 100). Since science could not prove something to the exclusion of all doubt, scientific knowledge was easy to doubt and scrutinize. Furthermore, science was also a threat to religious institutions because it challenged the notion of “God’s order” (Outram 96), and this threat made it even more the subject of attack.

OUTRAM chapter 7

What was “Science on the ground” (in the everyday world) up to in the Enlightenment? Outram comments on this at the end of the chapter, but the question is implicitly present throughout her discussion. On the other hand, what was “expert science” up to, or does this phrase (my phrase, not Outram’s) make any sense in the period?

The science on the ground refers to the notion of science transitioning away from natural philosophy toward more practical (evidence-based) notion of science. The notion of expert science was still a new concept during the Enlightenment and I’m not sure that it made sense yet. Life was still ruled by religion and science has not yet proven itself substantially using observations and evidence to have something resembling what we now know as a body of science.

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