Science in the Early Industrial Revolution
As the Enlightenment drew to a close in the final quarter of the eighteenth century so the science that had been its inspiration was to undergo a changing social role. No longer was it to be mainly an ideological weapon in religious or political polemics (though its capacity in this respect was far from exhausted). Nor was it much longer to be a hobby for the rich or a status symbol for social climbers. Its role in society was in fact to change in quite a complicated way, but most obviously in respect of its practical utility. This, of course, is what had been claimed for it ever since Bacon’s time, and with some degree of truth. Science had enabled men to navigate more accurately, just as for centuries it had allowed them to calculate the seasons with ever greater precision. Something like scientific thinking had informed those who analysed material used for coinage or who went on herbalising expeditions in the service of medicine. And that boon to mankind, the lightning conductor, was assuredly the high point of applied science in the Enlightenment. But scientific discoveries had chiefly been of use in stimulating further scientific research.
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Notes and References
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