I. In modern terms of scientists science can be thought of
as two coexisting modes of thought/action:
The attempt to understand and to explain the natural world.
This can also be referred to as Natural Philosophy and is what
most historians of science are largely referring to when they
look at science before the "Scientific Revolution"
of 17th century Europe or in other cultures prior to their acceptance
of "modern science."
The method of modern science, that is the experimental method
often characterized as the "Scientific Method" based
on observation, hypothesis creation, hypothesis testing (via
experimentation or directed exploration), and theory building,
and the body of knowledge which has resulted from these activities.
II. The term science can also be "applied to any procedure
or belief characterized by rigor, precision, or objectivity"
(DL 2). Thus Sherlock Holmes, and medieval theologians considered
III. Another definition holds that science includes the patterns
of behavior by which we have gained control over nature. Thus
science in ancient and medieval times (as well as today in lay
terms) could refer to technology and craft traditions.
The Arts encompasses two broad categories:
The Liberal Arts are very much what you might think of them
today: grammar, philosophy, science, mathematics, astronomy:
what you might study at a liberal arts college. Basically the
Arts in the Middle Ages included the entire undergraduate curriculum
and the graduate curriculum outside of theology, medicine, and
The Arts on the other hand can also include the areas we
usually call technology and art: metal work, painting, ceramics,
building trades, etc. In other words, most of SCA "science."
The Knowledge of Science: (For
our discussions I am going to use the definitions of science
A number of institutions/occurrences were critical to the
development of science in the Middle Ages.
The separation of Church and State (based on Christ's
dictum: Render onto Caesar that which is Caesar's and onto
God that which is God's) allowed for greater intellectual freedom.
This was quite different than in Islam or Byzantium, where there
was little or no differentiation between religious and secular
The translations (from Arabic and Greek into Latin):
Science in the Middle Ages was absolutely dependent on the translations
of the Greek texts, particularly those of Aristotle. These of
course did not generally come to them raw. Most initially came
via the Islamic culture, particularly through Spain And "Islamic"
scientists had heavily commented on and added to this heritage.
Thus Europe gained a highly developed scientific literature,
the result of perhaps a thousand years of intellectual exploration.
By far the greatest of these translations were of Aristotle's
works. Most of us, having never looked at Aristotle think of
him as one of the great early philosophers. In fact he was the
great Greek scientist and most of his extant works (and those
available in the Middle Ages) pertain to science, and especially
to Natural Philosophy. The works of other authors, such as Ptolemy,
Hippocrates, Galen, al-Kwarizmi, Avicenna, Rhazes, and Archimedes
were also largely concerned with science. As was Plato's Timaeus.
The University is a unique contribution of 12th century
Europe to the World's cultures. Originally based on the guild
structure, the term university originally had no scholarly or
educational connotations, it simply referred to a group pursuing
common ends (DL 208). Commonly four faculties existed: an undergraduate
faculty of liberal arts, and three graduate faculties-law, medicine,
and theology. A boy started at university at about age 14, spent
34 years to get his bachelor's degree (via exam), then might
pursue a master of arts while lecturing on some subjects. At
about age 21 he could take the masters exam to get the M.A. which
would entitle him to teach all courses in the liberal arts. (DL
209) Additional study for the Master's or Doctor's degree (no
difference) took 67 years past the M.A. for medicine, 78
years for law, and 816 years for theology. The curriculum
expanded beyond the traditional seven liberal arts. Logic increased
its emphasis while grammar declined, math maintained its low
profile, while the three philosophies, moral philosophy, natural
philosophy, and metaphysics rounded out the arts .Between the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries Aristotelian natural philosophy
became compulsory and the central, dominant material of the arts
curriculum. This curriculum was very uniform across Christianity.
Completing the M.A. conferred the ius ubique docendi (right of
teaching anywhere). (DL 212) Of course having a common language,
Latin, helped. Finally, the Masters had great intellectual freedom-"there
was almost no doctrine, philosophical or theological, that was
not submitted to minute scrutiny by scholars of the medieval
university." (DL 213) "[T]he medieval master...who
specialized in the natural sciences, would not have thought of
himself as restricted or oppressed by either ancient or religious
authority." (DL 213)
The liberal attitude of the Catholic Church toward pagan
knowledge: For the most part they seemed to feel little threat
from pagan philosophy etc. This is seen in the emergence of the
theologian-natural philosophers who had backgrounds in natural
philosophy as well as theology (as a result of the emphasis on
science in the medieval university). These Medieval Scholastics
had a spirit of free inquiry, emphasized reason, had a profound
sense that seeking to understand how the world operated was a
laudable undertaking, and they created a core of problems to
be studied. (EG 202) Thus, William of Ockham, "Assertions...concerning
natural philosophy, which do not pertain to theology, should
not be solemnly condemned or forbidden to anyone, since in such
matters everyone should be free to say freely whatever he pleases."
(c. 1330; EG 201) and Nicole Oresme invoking reason to repudiate
arguments for the eternity of the world: "I want to demonstrate
the opposite according to natural philosophy and mathematics.
In this way it will become clear that Aristotle's arguments are
not conclusive." (EG 201) Medieval natural philosophers
(e.g. Buridan) sought to investigate the "common course
of nature," not the uncommon or miraculous course. They
described this as "speaking naturally" (loquendo naturaliter)-speaking
in terms of natural science, not faith or theology. (EG 195)
They were thus able to avoid theological condemnation, since
they still allowed God the miraculous or out of the ordinary.
Three preconditions for the development of modern science
were thus laid down in the Middle Ages: 1) the translation of
Greco-Arabic works on science and natural philosophy into Latin,
2) the formation of the Medieval University, and 3) the emergence
of the theologian-natural philosophers. (EG 171)
Many of the key works on science and mathematics in the middle
ages are readily available in translation. The items displayed
at the workshop are all from The Great Books of the Western
World set: v 7, Plato; v. 8 & 9, Aristotle;
v. 10 Hippocrates & Galen; v. 11 Euclid, Archimedes,
Apollonius of Perga, and Nicomachus; v. 16, Ptolemy (this
is not considered a particularly good translation, a better one
was made in the 1980's); v. 19 & 20, Thomas Aquinas.
Examples of Some Scientific Instruments
Typical of the Middle Ages
Perfected by the Arabs, this instrument was developed by the
Greeks as early as the 2nd century B.C. The oldest extant examples
are 10th (Islamic) & 13th (Christian) century.
Astrolabe: A greatly simplified offshoot of the astrolabe,
it was developed in Portugal in the 15th century as superior
to the quadrant for navigation on ships.
Developed by the Greeks. Earliest Muslim reference is by Al Kwarizmi
(c. 840) with the earliest European description that of Leonardo
of Piza (c. 1220).
Invented by the Provencal Levi b. Gerson in 1342 for astronomical
measurements. It was later adapted for navigational use. The
example is modeled after such a navigational instrument.
Sphere: Derived from Ptolemy's observational armillary sphere
the astrolabon. Observational spheres were well known in Islam
and were transmitted to Europe by the early 14th century. The
didactic sphere was used in teaching elementary astronomy in
Christian Europe, has no Islamic background, and was probably
developed in the 13th century. There were two types: a simple
hand-held variety, and one supported on a stand where it could
be set to various latitudes and seasons.
The wooden-bowl compass seems to have been developed by 1300
in the Mediterranean. Knowledge of the compass seems to have
come from China in the twelfth or thirteenth century. The example
is modeled after an extant specimen from the 15th century.
AC= Crombie, A. C. Medieval and Early Modern Science.
Doubleday & Co. Inc. Garden City (1959).
DL= Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science:
The European Scientific Traditions in Philosophical, Religious,
and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450. University
of Chicago Press. Chicago (1992).
EG= Grant, Edward. The Foundations of Modern Science in
the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge (1996).