International Journal of the Classical Tradition

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 54–72 | Cite as

A ‘Crise de la Conscience Européenne avant la Lettre’? Classical science and the origins of the scientific revolution

  • David J. Sturdy


This article, which is speculative in nature, contends that a ‘crisis of the European conscience’ occurred in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and may be traced through scientific thought of the period. That thought sometimes is presented in terms of a Scientific Revolution wherein nascent ‘modern’ science challenged and eventually replaced ‘Classical’ science. The argument presented here is that, at least in its early stages, ‘modern science’ sought to refine Classical theory rather than overturn it, and to contribute to the wider cultural purpose of upholding ‘the harmony of the world’. The challenge to this latter vision, according to which all forms of existence are connected and constitute a universal whole, came less from the sciences than from a vigorous philosophical scepticism. Both ‘Classical’ and ‘modern’ science fell under the scrutiny of sceptics, and it was in response to their objections that ‘modern science’ sought to justify itself. The epistemological debates generated by the ‘crisis of conscience’ took place through the written or printed word, but also in certain key institutions, notably royal courts, universities and other educational bodies.


Seventeenth Century Modern Science Sixteenth Century Classical Tradition Scientific Revolution 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. Sturdy
    • 1
  1. 1.School of History and International AffairsUniversity of UlsterColeraineUK

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