The great result of seventeenth-century science was to show the world that simple and exact laws of nature can be discovered. At the time of their discovery the most important thing about Galileo’s law of falling bodies and Newton’s “Principia” was their amazing novelty. Familiarity with such results of science has bred the modern contempt for superstition and anti-intellectual views concerning the phenomena of nature.

It must be confessed, however, that the immediate results of man’s new-found confidence in the intellect were often very unfortunate. For there can be little doubt that it was the successes of the Newtonian dynamics and of mathematical analysis which gave the philosophers of the eighteenth century their assurance of the possibility of like simple, exhaustive, accurate, positive, and wholly satisfactory treatments of the most complex of human affairs, including economics and politics, to say nothing of the biological sciences. Vain efforts in such directions consumed much of the best energy of the century, and such striking failures tended to obscure the real progress of knowledge when more modest or at least more simple problems were involved.

There were three principal tasks for eighteenth-century science. The organization of scientific men which had been begun in the preceding century with the Royal Society of London and the Académie des Sciences of Paris had to be widened and enlarged. The work of Newton had to be evolved and spun out finer and finer with the aid of a more and more flexible mathematical art. Above all, the description of nature had to be extended in every direction and classified, as the basis of further progress. In promoting the organization of science Leibnitz is the great figure. In the development of mathematical physics there are to be noted the Bernoulli family, Euler, Lagrange, and Laplace. In natural history Linnæus stands out preeminent, though Buffon must not be forgotten, and, as the century nears its close, biologists in the modern sense begin to appear.

One achievement of the century could not be foreseen—the creation of scientific chemistry by Lavoisier, aided by Scheele, Priestley and others, a deed hardly second to that of Newton and Galileo in its importance of science and civilization, and far the most important scientific advance of a hundred years.

All Directories