Theology in the Late Middle Ages Essay

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Hist. Sci., xlix (2011) HOW THEOLOGY, IMAGINATION, AND THE SPIRIT OF INQUIRY SHAPED NATURAL PHILOSOPHY IN THE LATE MIDDLE AGES Edward Grant Indiana University, Bloomington Historians of science have long debated historiographical issues and have even come to regard some of them as rather passé. The issues I shall consider will be applied to the late Middle Ages and, where necessary, extended to the early modern period, or, as I shall refer to it, the Scientific Revolution. In the broad range of medieval science and natural philosophy, I shall focus almost exclusively on natural philosophy, because, as we shall see, natural philosophers posed questions that probed “into all aspects of the world: nature, the supernatural, and an imaginary world of the hypothetical and possible”.1 It included bits and pieces of virtually all of the contemporary sciences, as well as thoughts and ideas that would be appropriate to sciences that only came into being in the modern era. It was not until the sciences of astronomy, optics, and mechanics — the exact sciences, known as the “middle sciences” to Aristotle and his followers in the late Middle Ages — became fully integrated with natural philosophy in the seventeenth century that early modern science emerged. Although the process of integration began in the Middle Ages, it accelerated rapidly in the seventeenth century. The importance of the union between the exact sciences and natural philosophy was truly significant. Other societies that at one time had well-developed mathematics and astronomy, but failed to generate, and maintain, a well-developed natural philosophy, eventually saw their mathematical sciences fade away. A prime example is the civilization of Islam.2 In what follows, I shall focus on two basic issues that are most relevant to natural philosophy and should be of great interest to historians of science. I shall
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