International School History - International Baccalaureate - MYP History

MYP4 Last update - 17 avril 2018  
Unit 3 - Lesson 6 -  Enlightened Science and Enlightened Despotism
What was the Enlightenment?

The Enlightenment was an intellectual and cultural movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It emphasised reason, logic, criticism and freedom of thought over faith and superstition. One of the most important features of the Enlightenment was the Scientific Revolution.

What was the Scientific Revolution?

The Scientific Revolution is a concept used by historians to describe the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in science transformed views about nature. As we saw earlier this year, such a significant change in the way the world was viewed has been termed by Thomas Kuhn as a ''paradigm shift''. While its dates are debated, the publication in 1543 of Nicolaus Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres is often cited as marking the beginning of the scientific revolution. It is a paradigm shift, because the key assumption of a stationary earth surrounded by moving heavenly bodies is replaced by a new heliocentric view of the cosmos. The completion of the scientific revolution is attributed to the "grand synthesis" of Isaac Newton's 1687 Principia, that formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation, and completed the synthesis of a new cosmology. How important was the scientific revolution? The English historian Herbert Butterfield wrote the following:

''Since that revolution turned the authority in English not only of the Middle Ages but of the ancient world—since it started not only in the eclipse of scholastic philosophy but in the destruction of Aristotelian physics—it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements within the system of medieval Christendom....''

Six months ago I doubt whether you would have understood much of what Butterfield is saying. Hopefully at least some of it makes sense now?

Paradigm shifts (Again) - Deductive and Inductive Logic

We have previously examined how medieval scholastics like Thomas Aquinas applied Aristotle’s logic to problems of theological importance to the medieval mind. Should Christians attempt to covert dog heads?, followed impeccable deductive logic.

We should attempt to convert to Christianity all creatures with souls
Dogheads have souls
Therefore we should try to convert dogheads.

This example of deductive reasoning is called a syllogism. A syllogism is a deductive argument which arrives at a conclusion based on two or more propositions that are asserted or assumed to be true. A typical example said to derive from Aristotle says:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

As long as the propositions are true, the conclusion must be true. Because dogheads have souls we should try and convert them.

An argument can still be valid even when the conclusion is false, if one of the propositions is false.

All men have beards
Socrates is a man
Therefore, Socrates has a beard.


As we have seen earlier this year, the scholastic paradigm assumed that the ultimate truth was found in uncovering God's perspective as outlined in the Bible. It also assumed that there were mysteries of the universe that could never be understood. The medieval deductive arguments were valid, but could result false conclusions because they were based on questionable propositions such as the existence of dog heads or that the earth is the centre of the universe.

When Galileo posited a heliocentric view of the solar system, he was going further than Copernicus and Kepler (who worked out that planets do not orbit in perfect circles), because his conclusions were based on observations and measurements. These measurements were made possible by technological developments in optics that made it possible for Galileo observe and measure the movement of the planets in ways that had previously been impossible. It also made Galileo very dangerous to the Catholic church, because his conclusions were not simply propositions or theories but rather they were proven by observation. This was a humanist perspective that suggested that the truth was to be uncovered by human observation of the natural world. This required a different type of reasoning, inductive logic. This would form the basis of the Scientific Revolution.

When reading through the list of great names of the Scientific Revolution, it is worth noting that all of them (with the notable exception of Galileo) were born in Protestant countries or ended up in Protestant countries in order to work.

Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying strong evidence for the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument may only be probable, based upon the evidence given. It is the weight of evidence that matters. The great 20th century Austrian/British philosopher Karl Popper summarized this uncertainty with the principle of empirical falsification. Scientific laws can never be proven, but they should be assumed to be true until proven otherwise (falsified).

The basic method of inductive reasoning is the scientific method, which you are all familiar with and which was developed at the start of the Scientific Revolution by Francis Bacon.

Activity 1

Read the text above.

1. Explain the difference between deductive and inductive logic. Do not cut and paste a definition from the internet, you need to try and explain it.

2. Watch the film about Galileo.

(a) How did Galileo prove the theories of Copernicus and Kepler?
(b) How did Galielo get around the injunction not to write in support of Copernicus?
(c) Why was Pope Urban VIII so upset by Galileo and why did he feel the need to take action?
(d) How did Galileo defend himself?
(e) Why in the end did Galileo confess, with what consequences for him and his book?


Who were the scientists?

Monty Python illustrate the flaws of deductive reasoning.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

British. Bacon believed that knowledge shouldn't be derived from books, but from experience itself.

With inductive thinking, he begins by observing the variety of phenomena and derives general principles to explain those observations. Empiricism emphasises the importance of observable evidence produced in support of a theory. Bacon is considered to be the father of the scientific method:

1 Observe what happens.
2 Develop a theory.
3 Devise an experiment to test the theory. Repeat the experiment to ensure the same outcome.
4 Observe and measure the results of the experiment.
5 If the results do not fit, return to step 2 and develop a new theory.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

In 1610 the Italian mathematician, scientist and astronomer Galileo became one of the first people to build and use a telescope to observe the sky. He managed to observe the Milky Way, the Moon and the orbit of planets in the solar system. He concluded in his book of 1610, The Starry Messenger, that his scientific observations showed that Copernicus' theories, 67 years earlier, were indeed correct.

This was to cause a negative reaction from the Catholic Church because these discoveries undermined the teachings of the Church, and attacked the idea that the Church and God were at the centre of a perfect universe. In 1633 Galileo went through a trial conducted by the Church, which led to him being under house arrest for the last eight years of his life!


William Harvey (1578-1657)

British. Harvey worked to discover how the heart and blood worked in the body. Prior to this, scientists in Europe were believers in the teachings of Galen, who was a Greek doctor from the second century. Galen taught that the blood was moved from the heart to all the different parts of the body, where it was used up. William Harvey's approach to Galen's teachings was to be more scientific; he began to experiment and measure scientifically how the blood moved around the body.

Harvey experimented in order to discover how the blood circulated: • He pushed thin wire down veins. • He cut up live cold-blooded animals, such as frogs, to watch how their hearts worked.• He made attempts to pump blood past valves inside the veins. When he failed he realised that blood only flowed in one direction. • He took measurements of how much blood the heart pumped.

Harvey's experiments had proved that the heart pumped blood to the body through arteries and the blood returned to the heart through veins.
Image result for william harvey



Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

French mathematician and philosopher.  Descartes was a deist who believed that God created the universe as a perfect clockwork mechanism that functioned thereafter without intervention. In Discours de la Méthode (1637), he advocated the systematic doubting of knowledge (scepticism), believing as Plato that sense perception and reason deceive us and that man cannot have real knowledge of nature. The only thing that he believed he could be certain of was that he was doubting, leading to his famous phrase Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).


Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)

Dutch. Antony Leeuwenhoek was a businessman and scientist in the Golden Age of Dutch science and technology, a friend and contemporary of Johannes Vermeer. A largely self-taught man in science, he is commonly known as 'the Father of Microbiology'. He found that plant and animal tissues were made out of rooms or cells, but they also discovered tiny monsters in mud puddles: hydras and amoebas. He was also the first to document microscopic observations of muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa, red blood cells, crystals in gouty tophi, and blood flow in capillaries.

In 2004, a public poll in the Netherlands to determine the greatest Dutchman ("De Grootste Nederlander") named van Leeuwenhoek the 4th-greatest Dutchman of all time.

Vermeer - The astronomer


Robert Hooke (1635-1703)

British. Hooke was a professor of geometry, an astronomer and designer of the compound microscope. He described his invention and other pieces of equipment, and made detailed drawings from his observations of objects such as the flea. In 1665, he inspired the use of microscopes for scientific exploration with his book, Micrographia. Based on his microscopic observations of fossils, Hooke was an early proponent of biological evolution. Much of Hooke's scientific work was conducted in his capacity as curator of experiments of the Royal Society.

He investigated the phenomenon of refraction, deducing the wave theory of light, and was the first to suggest that matter expands when heated and that air is made of small particles separated by relatively large distances.

 Image result for newton

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

British. Forty-five years after the death of Galileo, the English physicist and mathematician. Sir Isaac Newton published what has been termed the greatest scientific book ever written. The book, published in 1687, was called Principia Mathematica and laid down the laws of motion and gravitation. He is mostly remembered for his law of gravity. The story goes that after watching an apple fall from a tree he began to wonder why it fell straight down and did not just stay where it was, or move sideways.

His theory of gravity, developed in 1686, showed that all objects attract each other, depending on their mass and distance apart. Therefore the huge Earth pulls a small apple towards it by a force called gravity.


Karl von Linné (1707-1778) also known as Carolus Linnaeus.

Swedish. Linnaeus is considered to be the father of taxonomy.  In his Systema Naturae, published in 1767, he catalogued all the living creatures into a single system that defined their relations to one another: the Linnean classification system. Distinct living creatures he called "species," which means "individuals." Related species were called a "genus," which means "kind." And so on up a scale of more abstract relationships: family, class, order, phylum, and kingdom.

Each individual species was marked by both its species and its genus name; this classification system, with some modifications, still dominates our understanding of the living world.
Image result for linnaeus classification


Activity 2

Design a timeline of the scientific revolution, which includes all the scientists listed above. You need to indicate their life span (birth and death date) so that you can see how many scientists were contemporaneous. And you need to include a sentence or two to summarize their main scientific contribution. The film at the top of the page will also help with this. Click on the image below to see a sample of good timelines from previous years.


Absolute Monarchies and Enlightened Despots

Absolute monarchy is a form of monarchy in which one ruler has supreme authority and where that authority is not restricted by any written laws, legislature (parliament), or customs. Many European monarchs,  claimed supreme autocratic power by divine right, and that their subjects had no rights to limit their power. This is what political scientists call 'traditional authoritarianism', because power was passed on from father to son, through time and through one family. In some European countries, this form of government lasted until the 20th century. As an inherited power, traditional authoritarianism can be distinguished from modern authoritarianism, which emerged after World War 1 with the rise of authoritarian political parties, such as the Nazis in Germany. There are still some absolute monarchies in the world today, mainly in the Middle East.

As a form of government, they emerged in Europe in the 16th century as new nation states sought to centralize and strengthen their power against enemies abroad and opponents within. Typically this meant imposing one religious faith and weakening towns, regional nobility and representative assemblies.  In some countries, notably Britain as we have seen, this failed as Britain became a constitutional monarchy. In other countries, like France, Prussia (northern Germany) and Russia, it succeeded.

In the 18th century a number of absolute monarchs came under the influence of the ideas of the Enlightenment and they sought to rule according rational and scientific principles of good governance.  These monarchs have become known as enlightened despots. They enjoyed the despotic power of absolute monarchs but ruled with the general interests of the nation in mind.



Activity 3

Absolute Monarchs balloon debate. Who was the greatest of the Absolute Monarchs of the 17th and 18th century? This is an end of Unit Test that will assess your ability to research and debate.

MYP Criteria

B: Investigating
C: Communicating

Image result for balloon debate



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