Towards a Materialist Concept of the History of Science


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Modern European science has its roots in the scientific revolution of the 16th to 18th centuries. The question of what created that revolution is addressed from the premise that science does not act on the basis of intrinsic interests but responds to demands from outside. It is argued that the direction science takes is determined by the economic system of society and that during the Renaissance and Enlightenment the determining factor was the need of the developing merchant capitalism and colonial expansion for an accurate determination of longitude at sea, for which competing governments offered substantial rewards. The search for a solution led to more accurate astronomical observations that produced the shift from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican system. This in turn required a shift from Ptolemaic to Newtonian physics. Religion influenced the developments by obstructing scientific progress in countries under Catholic control and shifting publication of new findings to protestant countries, but it was not the determining factor for the direction science took during the period. The interest of the Papacy to improve the calendar contributed to the improvements of astronomical observations but was not the main cause for the revolutionary scientific developments.