History of Science: Antiquity to 1700

Course No. 1200
Professor Lawrence M. Principe, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University
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Course No. 1200
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Course Overview

"All human beings, by nature, desire to know." —Aristotle, The Metaphysics. For well over 2,000 years, much of our fundamental "desire to know" has focused on the area we now call science. In fact, our commitment to science and technology has been so profound that these now stand as probably the most powerful of all influences on human culture.

To truly understand our Western heritage, our contemporary society, and ourselves as individuals, we need to know what science is and how it developed.

  • Who, in fact, were the scientists of the past?
  • What was the true motivation for their work?
  • Is science characterized by lone geniuses, or is it tied to culture and the needs of a particular society?
  • Does science really operate in a linear progression, from discovery to discovery?
  • What does history reveal about the nature of religion and science?
A Complex Evolution Made Clear

In this course, an award-winning professor leads you on an exploration of these issues as he traces this complex evolution of thought and discovery from ancient times to the Scientific Revolution.

Professor Lawrence M. Principe, who is Professor of both Chemistry and the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at Johns Hopkins University, is a winner of the Templeton Foundation's prestigious award for courses dealing with science and religion. He has also won several teaching awards bestowed by Johns Hopkins and in 1999 was chosen Maryland Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation.

Dr. Principe gives living order to science's story by considering it in terms of several penetrating questions, two of which are especially important. Who pursued science—and why? What happened—and why?

As he notes, "Science is a dynamic, evolving entity, tightly connected to the needs and commitments of those who pursue it. The real context of even familiar scientific developments will frequently come as a surprise and can suggest alternative ways for present-day thinking and science to develop."

You will see how many scientific discoveries originated from ideas that might be considered ridiculous or humorous from today's perspective of "cutting-edge technology," as science's earliest thinkers worked under the limitations imposed by the knowledge and culture of their times.

But you'll also see that many of these early principles are still relevant and embraced today.

Follow the Transition from "Natural Philosophy" to "Science"

Our notions of "science" and "scientists" date only to the 19th century. Before then, "science" simply meant knowledge; the label of "scientist" did not exist.

Instead, the study of the natural world was known as "natural philosophy." And even the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle are considered two of the most influential figures in the history of science.

Dr. Principe examines scientific thought and activity over nearly four millennia, beginning in the time of the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians.

He restores the vitally important context he believes has been lost from this discussion in recent times.

To cite just two examples:

Johannes Kepler's laws of planetary motion are still taught today. But can we really assume he formulated them primarily to advance an understanding of orbital mechanics? Did his actual reason even involve the urge for scientific discovery, at least as we know it?

Isaac Newton is considered to be the first "modern" scientist. But is this true? Or have we sanitized him by glossing over certain aspects of his personality, such as his obsessions with alchemy and the biblical apocalypse?

Ideas Linked Through Time

With Dr. Principe's guidance, you will see that science is often characterized by ideas that have an enormously long shelf life, linking widely separated eras.

For example, the ancient Greek theory of atomism, though rejected in its own time, survived through the ages to play a central role in prominent theories of the 17th century.

Similarly, a variety of themes reverberates through the history of science. Among those central to this course are:

  • the emphases that civilizations have placed on either theoretical science or practical technology
  • the effect of culture on the questions that science asks
  • the relationship between science and religion.

You may be surprised by what you learn about that last point.

Today, we tend to see science and religion as separate and even antagonistic. But this has not always been the case. For much of the history of science, theology was actually seen not only as compatible with science, but as the principal motivator of scientific inquiry.

From Plato to Descartes; From Babylon to Paris

This course covers a vast historical landscape. In every lecture, you will find yourself thinking about science from a fresh perspective, aided by a wealth of interesting information.

You'll learn about:

The Babylonian base-60 math system, still in use today for telling time (60 minutes in an hour), measuring angles, and performing astronomical computations (60 minutes in a degree).

The thinking of Plato and Aristotle, which served as the foundation for all scientific inquiry until the Scientific Revolution. You'll learn about Plato's concept of the Forms, how he was influenced by mathematics, and his geometry-based account of the creation of the world in the Timaeus, as well as Aristotle's theory of matter and the four causes of all things.

The Hellenistic-era achievements of Hipparchus, Archimedes, Eudoxus, and Ptolemy in such fields as mathematics, mechanics, and astronomy.

The contributions of the Romans, including hydraulics, road and building construction, their marvelously engineered aqueducts, the Julian calendar, and even the first "standardized" school curriculum.

The role of Christianity and Islam in staving off complete disaster for scientific learning. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the two monotheistic world religions provided the stability to preserve at least part of the natural philosophy of the classical period, including translations of important texts and the creation of vital centers of scientific thought.

The development of the medieval university method of Scholasticism, which based the study of any subject on oral disputation and written commentary and made a vital contribution to the development of the scientific method of inquiry.

Controversies surrounding heliocentrism. You will encounter a fascinating, in-depth discussion of the facts behind the publication of Nicholas Copernicus's De revolutionibus, which proposed that the earth circles the sun, and of the church's subsequent condemnation of Galileo for supporting Copernicus's views.

Seventeenth-century theories of nature, including the revival of ancient atomism by Pierre Gassendi; the "Mechanical Philosophy" of Rene Descartes and Robert Boyle, which proposed that the world is a giant machine functioning like clockwork; and the "Vitalism" of Jan Baptista Van Helmont, who saw the world operating under the direction of active, living forces.

The rise of scientific societies in Italy, London, and Paris, creating a public focus for the fostering of scientific collaboration.

"We need to understand scientific study and discovery in historical context," notes Dr. Principe. "Theological, philosophical, social, political, and economic factors deeply impact the development and shape of science."

This course provides a comprehensive survey of that process in action. Its 36 lectures can change not only the perspective with which you look at science's past, but the way you understand its present, as well.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Beginning the Journey
    This introductory lecture asks fundamental questions about the nature of science and its development, its importance to human civilization, and the reasons for studying its history. This lecture also introduces themes that will recur throughout the course and provides an overview of the epochs and subjects to be covered. x
  • 2
    Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks
    This lecture explores the origins of man's study of the natural world. The Babylonians, with their complex mathematics and astronomical observations, and the Egyptians are considered first. We proceed to the earliest Greek thinkers and consider their first "scientific" theories about the natural world and how these were distinct from earlier ways of envisioning and conceptualizing the world. x
  • 3
    The Presocratics
    Several Greek philosophers before the time of Socrates (d. 399 B.C.) grappled with issues that laid the foundations of Western natural philosophical thought and method: What is the world made of? Where did things come from? Do our senses show us reality? We study their explanations for the physical changes around us, their ideas on the origin and end of the world, and the new concept of atoms. We consider how the influence of Presocratic ideas has resounded in Western thought ever since. x
  • 4
    Plato and the Pythagoreans
    Plato, a student of Socrates, was one of the most influential thinkers in history. This lecture recounts his responses to Presocratics and his contemporaries. Key to understanding Plato and his scientific impact is his view of reality and how it affects the value he places on observation, the nature of true knowledge about the world, and how that knowledge is to be acquired. The influence of the secretive Pythagoreans is important both directly on Plato and through him, to the relationship between mathematics and the study of the natural world. x
  • 5
    Plato's Cosmos
    This lecture begins with a study of Plato's Timaeus; he describes the cosmos and its creation, its fundamental building blocks, human anatomy, and other scientific topics. Plato's interests are not only natural philosophy but also ethical and social. Partly on account of Timaeus, the pagan Plato found acceptance among Christians, Muslims, and Jews and was, thus, enormously influential in a range of areas. x
  • 6
    Aristotle's View of the Natural World
    Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle had tremendous impact on the development of natural philosophy. This lecture introduces Aristotle, his writings, and his ideas as a response to his predecessors, the Presocratics and Plato. We focus on Aristotle's views on the value of observation, the nature of change, the composition of matter, and what constitutes real knowledge. The characterization of Aristotle as a "biologist" helps to make sense of his worldview, contrasted with the modern worldview based instead on physics. x
  • 7
    Aristotelian Cosmology and Physics
    This lecture looks at Aristotle's impact and activity in cosmology, physics, and dynamics, bearing in mind his key interest in biology as a means of explaining his intentions. We explore the structure of Aristotle's cosmos, show how this relates to his physics of motion. We conclude by demonstrating Aristotle's system to explain everyday observations. x
  • 8
    Hellenistic Natural Philosophy
    Like Plato, Aristotle founded a school, the Lyceum, in Athens that perpetuated his work and ideas. This lecture also surveys the wider world of Hellenistic science that developed in the expanded Greek world created by Aristotle's student Alexander the Great. Emphasis is paid to Alexandria, with its great library and museum, and to the work and legends of Archimedes. x
  • 9
    Greek Astronomy from Eudoxus to Ptolemy
    This lecture examines the development of systems of astronomy, from Eudoxus and other followers of Plato to the one proposed by Claudius Ptolemy in Alexandria during the 2nd century A.D. We examine how and why these systems were devised and used. The differences in goals and claims between classical and modern astronomy are highlighted. x
  • 10
    The Roman Contributions
    The Romans produced a staggering civilization that was very different from the Greeks. In this lecture, we explore the differences in their scientific work. The Romans' most notable achievements were in technological advancements rather than the more speculative sciences of the Greek world. We explore the intellectual status of technology as well as how the pursuit of science responds to the needs and temper of a society rather than developing according to a notion of "progress." We examine several case studies of Roman engineering and technology. x
  • 11
    Roman Versions of Greek Science and Education
    A more formal system of education was one development of the Roman world, and that system set the standards for the next 1,500 years. A related development was the spread of Greek science for Roman readers, such as Lucretius's verse recapitulation of Epicurean atomism, On the Nature of Things. The initiation of the "encyclopedia" tradition is also part of the Roman contribution, such as Pliny the Elder's massive Natural History. x
  • 12
    The End of the Classical World
    After a long period of decline, the city of Rome fell to barbarians in A.D. 476. This lecture visits that time and immediately after to see what scientific and philosophical thought was saved from the wreck of classical civilization—how, why, and by whom. The rise of Christianity is key at this point. We address why the Middle Ages inherited only what it did from the Classical world. This topic asserts consideration of the cultural factors on which the continuance of science and technology depends. x
  • 13
    Early Christianity and Science
    The Christian Church developed within pagan Classical culture and had to come to terms with its intellectual legacy. This lecture examines the debates over what Christians should accept from pagan learning, particularly in science. What natural philosophy did Christians and Christianity require? Special attention is given to the arguments and proposals offered by St. Augustine of Hippo. x
  • 14
    The Rise of Islam and Islamic Science
    The origin of Islam in the early 7th century and its rapid spread across Asia, Africa, and into Latin Europe gave rise to a vibrant civilization that eagerly adopted and extended Greek natural philosophical and other thought. This lecture outlines the rise of Islam, why Greek science was valued by early Muslims, and the institutional and social features that encouraged the translation of Greek texts into Arabic. x
  • 15
    Islamic Astronomy, Mathematics, and Optics
    Scholars in the Islamic world built extensively on the scientific foundations they adopted from the Greeks. This lecture examines some of the developments in the mathematical sciences and notes how these sciences were integrated into Muslim society. Various theories of vision are examined, and some contributions of medieval Muslim scholars still visible in modern science are also noted. x
  • 16
    Alchemy, Medicine, and Late Islamic Culture
    Islamic contributions to the Hellenistic study of chemia not only created the word alchemy but also laid the foundations for the development of chemistry. Islamic medical discoveries and writings were significant and proved influential in later periods. We look at the natural philosophical and intellectual components of two groups of Arabic thinkers, the falasifa and the mutakallimun. We examine the reasons given by scholars for the decline of Islamic intellectual pre-eminence in the 13th century. x
  • 17
    The Latin West Reawakens
    Despite sporadic attempts to reignite Latin culture during the early Middle Ages, only in the 12th century did sustained development appear. We look at the "Renaissance of the 12th Century" and the great Latin translation movement, when Latin European scholars eagerly plumbed the intellectual wealth of the Islamic world. x
  • 18
    Natural Philosophy at School and University
    In the history of science, the settings of scientific studies and the institutions that sponsored them are of great interest. We look at the changing nature of such institutions. Noteworthy are the monastic and cathedral schools, the origins of that great medieval institution, the university. We examine universities, what it was like to be a student or professor, and what the place and content of scientific studies were. Who took part in the study of the natural sciences, and why? x
  • 19
    Aristotle and Medieval Scholasticism
    The works of Aristotle were some of the most influential the Latin West reacquired from the Islamic world. Aristotelian investigative methods gave rise to the system of Scholasticism, and university curricula were highly dependent on Aristotle. Yet he was a pagan who held views contrary to Christian doctrine. We look at the fate of Aristotle in the medieval Christian world, and the way his natural philosophy developed within Christian theology. x
  • 20
    The Science of Creation
    The origin of the world has always been a topic for scientific inquiry. This lecture examines some approaches to this question from the Middle Ages. Although the creation by God of the world out of nothing was an undoubted article of faith, medieval natural philosophers strove to understand the natural causes at work in creation and how God organized his creation. In this lecture we examine the fascinating Hexameral literature, commentaries on the first chapters of Genesis, used by medieval thinkers for investigations into natural philosophy. x
  • 21
    Science in the Orders
    The monastic orders were preservers and promoters of natural philosophical (and other) learning since late antiquity. But the major new orders of the Middle Ages—Franciscans and Dominicans—developed new natural philosophical outlooks and programs as part of their theology. This lecture looks at these two orders, their origins, their distinctness, and the scientific work of Roger Bacon among the Franciscans and St. Albert the Great among the Dominicans, and others. x
  • 22
    Medieval Latin Alchemy and Astrology
    Alchemy and astrology, sometimes dismissed as pseudosciences, were seriously pursued by learned scholars in the Middle Ages. Alchemical texts first came to the Latin West from the Islamic world, but by the 13th century, original Latin treatises were being written. Some show important innovations in matter theory and practical processes. Astrology offered the hope of an anchor in an uncertain world, providing warnings of sickness or danger for individuals, as well as states. This lecture surveys the developments in this often-obscure field. x
  • 23
    Medieval Physics and Earth Sciences
    This lecture looks at medieval developments in astronomy and the physics of motion. Examples show how medieval questions could have surprising results; how medieval natural philosophers used and disagreed with Aristotle; and how results of medieval speculation and calculation laid the foundations of the modern science of kinematics. x
  • 24
    The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
    Trying to put labels to historical periods is tricky. But many thinkers from the 15th to the 17th centuries saw themselves as initiating a new period of civilization, including in scientific areas. The Italian Renaissance often claimed to be a clean break from the Middle Ages—a time so demonized that rhetorical extravagances about it are still heard today. This lecture looks at features that characterize the Italian Renaissance (and the subsequent Scientific Revolution) and what they meant in terms of worldview and scientific activity. x
  • 25
    Renaissance Natural Magic
    One aspect of Renaissance natural philosophy was the rise of "natural magic." Its goal was to understand the correspondences and powers God had implanted in the world and to make use of them, but relied on topics in science and technology. This lecture showcases three "magi" of the Renaissance: Agrippa von Nettesheim, the humanist author of a major compendium of magic; Paracelsus, the hot-tempered Swiss medical writer and iconoclast; and John Dee, the English mathematician who asked angels to tell him the secrets of God's creation. x
  • 26
    Copernicus and Calendrical Reform
    The Scientific Revolution is considered to commence with the 1543 publication of Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs, which promoted a Sun-centered rather than Earth-centered cosmos. This lecture looks at the content and reception of Copernicus's ideas, its effects on astronomy and physics, and at a related development, the reform of the calendar under Pope Gregory XIII. x
  • 27
    Renaissance Technology
    The Renaissance is well known for its explosion of artistic styles; less well known is the equal (and related) burgeoning of new technologies. This lecture looks at developments in mining and refining, military engineering, and other areas, and pauses to watch the late 15th-century's "Great Project," the moving of the 360-ton Vatican obelisk to the center of St. Peter's Square. x
  • 28
    Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo
    The years around 1600 saw tremendous changes in astronomy. Tycho Brahe's precision in measuring planetary positions partly fueled Johannes Kepler's astronomical discoveries. Kepler's desire to find the hidden harmonies in the planetary system provided a basis for modern celestial dynamics. About the same time, Galileo turned a new instrument, the telescope, on the heavens and saw amazing things never before seen by man. This lecture examines these characters, their context, their work and their impact. x
  • 29
    The New Physics
    The new views of the cosmic system required a new physics—Galileo knew that what he saw through the telescope signaled the end of the Ptolemaic and Aristotelian systems. We explore Galileo's attempts to create a new physics while emphasizing the new methods, goals, and worldview embodied in his system, and how this brought him into conflict with the church. We look at parallel developments in physics, particularly William Gilbert's work on magnetism and its impact. x
  • 30
    Voyages of Discovery and Natural History
    Throughout the early modern period, voyages of discovery westward to the Americas and eastward to Asia brought back stories of new lands and peoples and samples of strange new minerals, flora, and fauna previously unknown to Europe. This lecture looks at how natural history changed as a result and the new way the natural world began to be viewed. This lecture also describes the natural history method of studying the world—an innovation propounded by Francis Bacon. x
  • 31
    Mechanical Philosophy and Revised Atomism
    A major new concept of 17th-century natural philosophy was mechanical philosophy, an expressly anti-Aristotelian system that envisioned the world as a great machine functioning like a clockwork. Although the mechanical philosophy seemed to provide explanations of natural phenomena, it was not without problems—perhaps most crucially in its theologically unacceptable potential consequences. This lecture explores some versions of the mechanical philosophy in the work of Pierre Gassendi, René Descartes, Robert Boyle, and others. x
  • 32
    Mechanism and Vitalism
    Mechanical ways of thinking about the world were popular in the 17th century, but there were other options and hybrid systems from which to choose. This lecture examines the coexistence of mechanical and vitalistic conceptions in the life sciences and medicine, the persistence of Aristotelian thought, and the ways mechanical philosophy tried to explain the action-at-a-distance phenomena that were often fundamental to rival systems. x
  • 33
    Seventeenth-Century Chemistry
    The 17th century was a confusing time for the study of chemistry. This lecture looks at the continuing search for the secret of transmutation and at the development of a mechanical chemistry, the use of chemistry in medicine, and the enhanced status of the discipline by the end of the century. x
  • 34
    The Force of Isaac Newton
    Isaac Newton may be the most recognizable figure in the history of science. We look at Newton's life, his achievements in physics and astronomy, and his response to the mechanical philosophy in terms of the concept of force. We also deal with his less well-known activities, for the author of "Newtonian physics" spent even more time studying alchemy and biblical prophecies and developing his own (heretical) theology. x
  • 35
    The Rise of Scientific Societies
    Scientific societies originated in Italy in the 17th century and, ever since, have played a major role in the development of science. Two such societies continue to function today: the Royal Society of London and the Parisian Academy of Sciences. This lecture looks at the nature and functioning of scientific societies and the roles they play. x
  • 36
    How Science Develops
    This lecture glances forward to developments to come in the 18th century, such as the reworking of Newtonianism. It also recapitulates and summarizes themes and overarching trends covered in the preceding lectures, and contrasts contemporary views of science with the views revealed by our study during this course. x

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Your professor

Lawrence M. Principe

About Your Professor

Lawrence M. Principe, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University
Dr. Lawrence M. Principe is Drew Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. Professor Principe earned a B.S. in Chemistry and a B.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Delaware. He also holds two doctorates: a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Johns Hopkins University. In 1999, the Carnegie Foundation chose Professor Principe as the...
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History of Science: Antiquity to 1700 is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 43.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating look at the history of science This course starts with Babylon and ends with 17th century Europe. It's a dazzling voyage and one I highly recommend taking.. I especially liked the discussion of alchemy and the role of Arab philosophical traditions as well as the way the course takes medieval European scholarship seriously. For all the complicated material, the presentation is almost always very clear and I never felt lost even when listening to a difficult subject.
Date published: 2016-08-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not as compelling as other science courses This is a comprehensive historical survey of natural philosophy from before Aristotle to 1700. I know of no other source of this history in a single place nor with coverage as complete. That is truly of value. However, I did not find this course very compelling. By compelling I mean that I was not drawn, compellingly, from one lecture to another as I so often am with The Great Courses. Indeed, I found the first few lectures somewhat uninteresting. My interest grew as the lectures progressed. Professor Principe brings it all together at the end with a very interesting and worthy of attention description of the value of his course. I think my overall lack of enthusiasm lies in the distinction between natural philosophy and science. Aristotle was a philosopher, not a scientist. Professor Principe asks, in the first lecture, what is science? He says that definitions that pick out experimentation, verification, etc. leave out the essence of science. The essence of science is the study of the natural world. I agree but it is not sufficient to use natural philosophy as a definition of science either. In my mind they are not equivalent. I have enjoyed other Great Course that deal with the history and philosophy of science that focus on science during and after the enlightenment. I found them all compelling. I think the difference is that this history of early natural philosophy gives very little insight in our modern view of natural phenomena. By contrast, for example, understanding the history behind the development of the modern concept of entropy is almost essential to understanding entropy. Professor Principe repeatedly argues that we need to broaden our minds to see that these early historical details do give insight into the source of modern ideas but that is not convincing. Aristotle has no contribution to make to my understanding of modern physics as far as I can tell. That is not to say that there are no connections between modern science and antiquity. Archimedes' insights into displacement, for example, are quite striking given his time. Another example from the course was that observations comparing the way objects move down ramps and up ramps seeded the early visions of inertia. That is fascinating. The latter period becomes very pertinent to modern science, hence the more compelling sense of the lectures. Of course, the value of history cannot be ignored. These events occurred and were part of the intellectual growth of human beings. I would like to thank Professor Principe for creating a course that captures the history of this period with more detail than I have ever experienced. If it is the history, specifically, that you seek then I recommend this course. If it is the science then I would leave this course until after others offered by the Great Courses including Professor Principe's own "Science and Religion". And finally, I wonder, what will educated people millennia from now think of our hard earned body of knowledge?
Date published: 2016-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Four Thousand Years of Western Science I really, really like this course and regret that it’s available now only as an audio download. Professor Principe follows the trend of the last several decades in viewing science within the social and cultural context of its own times rather than as a gradual evolution from the wrongness of the past to the rightness of the present. As he says, rather than ask whether past civilizations had science in our sense—they didn’t—we should ask what they did have. People have long had religion and empirical observation for understanding the world around them, and classical Greece added “nature philosophy,” which has the goal of understanding the world so as to live better as individuals. On the other hand, Principe rejects the extreme version of social constructivism, which views all natural laws as artifacts of human perception. The course follows a three-part temporal scheme. The first part begins with the Mesopotamians and Egyptians but concentrates mainly on the intellectually fertile Greeks, followed by a few words on the much less imaginative Romans. The second part examines science within the context of Christianity and Islam; far from being an era of scientific ignorance (though that was a problem in Europe c. 500-1050), clergymen and scholars translated and preserved classical texts and managed important innovations, including the university. The famous caricature of scholasticism that it involved only debates over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin is off the mark; it offered a useful method of disputation and inquiry that began with a yes-no question. The third period focuses entirely on Christian Europe and extends from roughly the fifteenth century to the end of the seventeenth, from the Renaissance to the early modern period. It was a time of maritime exploration and great technological advances in time-keeping, printing, and optical devices (i.e. telescopes and microscopes) that made it possible for nature philosophers to move far beyond the knowledge and concepts of antiquity. The last man standing at the end of the course is Isaac Newton. The fields Principe follows include (in modern terms) philosophy, physics, astronomy, and biology from ancient times, optics and alchemy from the medieval period, and anatomy in the last period. Surprisingly, he has almost nothing to say about medicine, so we don’t learn about the four “humors” and the therapies for treating their imbalances: bleeding, purging, and vomiting. There are many examples here of the differentness of Western science before the modern era. Astronomy was not separate from astrology, but often a means to improving it. Pythagoras and his followers were not interested in mathematics for its own sake, but as an aid for living in harmony with the cosmos. Kepler, father of three laws of planetary orbits, tried first to prove the existence of Platonic solids in space and believed that the sun had a soul (the anima motrix) that moved the planets. Although Principe doesn’t mention it, Kepler also cast horoscopes, including one for Albrecht Wallenstein, the famous and infamous general of the Thirty Years War. Aristotle and many nature philosophers after him concerned themselves with “final causes”—the purposes of things—while today’s scientists don’t. The latter describe the daisy’s reproduction and nutrition (the efficient cause—what makes it), its cellular composition (the material cause—what it is made of), and its biological classification (the formal cause—what form it derives from), but they don’t ask what the daisy is “for,” except in the sense of describing its relationship with other living things. Some scientific controversies have been around for a very long time. First, can we trust the evidence of our sense or should we rely primarily on logic and mathematics? Consider astronomy; when Galileo used a telescope to see the moons of Jupiter, he destroyed the notion that all other planetary bodies orbit the Earth. On the other hand, direct observation tells us that the Sun goes around the Earth rather than vice versa; it’s quite clear, but wrong. Second, should we worry whether a scientific theory merely “saves the phenomenon” by making sense of it mathematically or is in fact is giving us a “true” picture of the world? Ptolemy’s model of the universe was a good example of this; it accurately predicted planetary motions, but were there REALLY epicycles out there? For more on these issues, I recommend Professor Steven Goldman’s “Science Wars” course. I also recommend the sequel to this course, the History of Science 1700-1900. As other reviewers note, this course is parochial in ignoring India, China, and of course Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations. I would have been delighted to have them, but including them would have turned 36 lectures into 60 or more. Furthermore, Principe may not have the background to discuss them.
Date published: 2016-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tremendous survey The History of Science up to 1700 does not involve a lot of science as we know it today and it wasn't even called science. It was "natural philosophy." And without having a body of knowledge to work from, we wouldn't be where we are today. Professor Principe is able to make some concepts that may seem confusing or esoteric to most of us resonate with importance. I think I knew an above average amount on this topic, but I definitely learned even more with this course.
Date published: 2015-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Western science only I'm about two-thirds through, and I'm really enjoying it, great hiking/dog-walking material. Some very enlightening stuff, turns out there was more going on during the middle ages than is usually let on. I'm looking into Dr. Principe's other TGC courses. One disappointment tho; even tho Dr. Principe was clear that he's talking about western science, no mention at all of Asia seems an unfortunate omission. Paper, printing, magnets, gunpowder... Seems like he coulda spent a lecture reviewing Asian science and natural philosophy, talking about its introduction to the west, etc. I'm not sure I recall even a passing mention of China or India.
Date published: 2014-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A onderful succienct but compelling introduction This is among the top 2 or 3 TC courses for me. Principe illuminates the various reasons why we still have enormous amount to learn from ancient civilizations and their approach to the natural world. While I was more interested in the 1500s he makes even the Egyptians and the Babylonians come alive. The lectures are marvelous but the bibliography is worth the price of the course. I cannot recommend this course more strongly if you are interested in how our world view developed
Date published: 2014-04-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This is Not a Course About Technology I only got this course after listening to the others in the trilogy and then wondering if they had a course covering the time period not covered by the other courses. I'm glad I found it. I've read some of the other reviews and it seems to me that people are mistaking science for technology. No one would mistake the Wright brothers for scientists. They owned a bike shop. However, they did build a flying machine when most "scientists" of the time were saying a heavier than air craft would never be built. Once the technology was proven scientists could then help improve the technology. It's possible that a course could be taught on the history of the science of aeronautics without ever mentioning airplanes or jets. It would probably be boring and depending on how far back you went it might be hard to explain just why the scientists switched from believing heavier than air flight wasn't possible to it was possible. In fact Dr. Principe alludes to this when he talked about the "Clock Work Age" and how those who built the mills were illiterate for the most part and not interested in natural philosophy (science) but made great strides in the technology of the time. It amazes me how much people don't understand how closely Christianity and science are linked. Some reviewers have complained that Dr. Principe gives Christianity too much credit. I personally enjoyed his insights and the linking of advances in natural philosophy to Christian philosophy. In fact in my opinion it is exactly because Europeans were Christians that they developed "science" as we know it. Certainly the inhabitants of the Asian Peninsula — incorrectly referred to as the "Continent of Europe" because of continental envy when Western geography books were written — were behind the great cultures of the East for most of history, with the possible exception of the Roman Empire. Dr. Principe doesn't make a big deal of this but it's true only in the West did alchemy become chemistry, or astrology become astronomy. Europeans were introduced to gunpowder by the Muslims from the Chinese, and they perfected it so that when the Europeans went on the voyages of "discovery" they totally dominated the historically great cultures because they had perfected putting gunpowder in tubes and shooting projectiles, among other things. In fact Europeans took the ideas introduced to them and improved on them all. They were introduced to algebra and developed calculus. They were introduced to optics and developed telescopes, microscopes and glasses. I can go on but the point is already made. Another reviewer was upset because so much time was given to Newtons writings and studies on theology and alchemy. Dr. Principe didn't make up the fact that Newton spent all his time studying and writing about those topics and ignoring the fact, like they did during the 18th century, doesn't make Newton a greater scientist — oops natural philosopher — it just makes him less interesting as a human. Many biographers of Newton have said that he thought his writings on theology were his most important works. That's just the way it is, most great scientists before the enlightenment were very devout Christians. Many still are today. I really enjoyed this course. Dr. Principe covered a lot of ground and I thought he covered it as well as could be expected in 36 lectures. Just be sure you know what he's going to talk about.
Date published: 2014-03-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disjointed and Superficial! In this series of lectures, Professor Lawrence Principe endeavours to present the history of science from Antiquity to the year 1700. His approach is essentially narrative and based on short biographies of the various protagonists. Until the final lecture, there is hardly any analysis and very few connections are made to the social environment in which scientific discoveries (or assertions) were made. The result is difficult to follow, detached from reality and, well, not very interesting. Professor Principe does not seem to realise that he is addressing an adult audience and believes he is enlightening by recounting: • the “Eureka” anecdote whereby Archimedes runs down the street straight out of his bathtub; • the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars; • that words starting with the prefix “al” such as alchemy, algebra and alcohol are of Arabic origin. In short, potential listeners should not expect innovation, originality or synthesis from these lectures.
Date published: 2013-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Excellent Course I realize that I am basically a Teaching Company junkie (I believe I have purchased close to 100 courses and have enjoyed virutally all of them), but this is another Great Course. Professor Principe outlines the origins of scientific thought and what passed as science a long time ago. I found this course entertaining and enlightening. There were many interesting tidbits that have helped make me the life of any cocktail party. The professor's bibliography contains many excellent suggestions for additional reading. Other reviewers have commented that this course should be labelled "natural philosophy" -- perhaps so, but this is what passed as science a long time ago. I think these are the issues that face researchers in other fields as well. For example, I don't believe that a modern historian would be able to get away with writing like Herodotus wrote -- but, that's how historians wrote 2000 years ago. Similarly, Prof. Principe does a nice job discussing how scientists (or, perhaps, "pre-scientists") worked in the old days. In any case, I enjoyed this course and would hope that, perhaps, Prof. Principe and the Teaching Company could provide us with additional courses on this topic.
Date published: 2012-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic course on the roots of Western science This is a first-rate course in both its breadth and depth. I found much of the content to be fascinating and a wonderful supplement to other courses covering the same periods. This is one of the courses you can listen to multiple times and tease out something different each time. Dr Principe is a pleasure to listen to because of his very competent and smooth delivery. The course is roughly divided into three epochs of scientific inquiry: 1) ancient (Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek ideas), 2) medieval (Christian and Muslim contributions), and 3) the scientific revolution of the Renaissance. Each lecture focuses is on the interaction of human culture and the natural world. In short, human culture (specifically philosophy and theology) guided the exploration of our natural world. At the outset of the course, we are cautioned to curb our tendencies to look at the history of science through a modern lens (the narrow view of Whiggism). Thus, understanding and appreciating the history of science calls for a keen awareness of historical context in relation to scientific developments. For me, some of the strongest highlights of the course included the contributions of Babylonian mathematics and astronomy, Islamic scholarship, Newton’s considerable preoccupation of alchemy and theology, and Fantana’s amazing engineering feat of moving the Vatican obelisk to St. Peter’s Square. As for some reviewers critical view that Dr Principe is a theologian with a religious agenda, I can only refer you to his bio which does not include seminary study, only advanced degrees (2 PhDs: one in Organic Chemistry and the other in the History of Science). Sure, he’s received an award from the Templeton Foundation (which may be indicative of his personal beliefs), but in my case, after listening to both of his courses, I'd say he wears the hat of Historian of Science here.
Date published: 2011-10-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too much non-objcetive bias for this listener Let me start by saying that I have many of the great courses and my opinion, in general, is that the company and the courses are quite good. Unfortunately, I was highly dissatisfied with this course. If I had read the credentials of the instructor more carefully I would not have been surprised I suppose. There is a subtle, but pervasive religious bias that ruins the presentation for me. Please don't misinterpret my reaction - I am not an atheist. But the degree to which the instructor speculates the religious motivations and beliefs of many of the scientists without substantiation is quite unscientific. And so I believe many scientists hearing this presentation will be unhappy with it. The uninformed layman may feel they are being made privy to the inner workings of the mind of Isaac Newton and others - alas, I am afraid they are really privy to the instructors personal agenda. Sorry, Learning Company, but this one is a true disappointment. You should think twice before having a religious theologian teach a history of science course. Your 'Modern Era' history of science course is far superior.
Date published: 2011-09-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Do Not Be Misled By the Title Be warned: only buy this course if you are interested in "natural philosophy". Most of what this course covers (with the exception of the last few lectures) is not what we in the modern age think of as science. This course would more accurately be called, "The Precursors of Scientific Thought", or, "Natural Philosophy Before the Scientific Revolution". I thought I would find a course on pre-modern science interesting, but the volume of lectures on Plato, Aristotle, and medieval theology were a bit tedious, uninspiring, and irrelevant to modern science. Overall, this course feels more like a history of philosophy than of science. The professor does add a disclaimer in the first lecture on how science is a relatively modern construct, and that we should learn to recognize scientific thought in its antique guises, but I felt I should warn potential buyers of what is actually in store with this lecture series. On another note, if you are interested in the roots of what we today recognize as science (chemistry, biology, physics, geology), I would recommend the next installment in the trilogy, "History of Science: 1700-1900". That course deals more exclusively with modern science and less with philosophy. Although it is intended to be the second in a trilogy, you could easily skip the first course.
Date published: 2011-07-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good rather than great Prof. Principe’s course on the History of Science from Antiquity to 1700 was good, but not great. I seem to be in the substantial minority in finding this to be a less than five star course. First, let me cover the good – The course content is excellent. Prof. Principe covers the ancient Greeks (Plato & Aristotle principally) and shows how they laid the foundation and formed the basis of much of what followed, both in the Islamic world and the Western medieval world. He does show how Western Science slowly broke away from both the Aristotelian and Platonic views to lay the foundation of modern science. Prof. Principe’s voice is excellent. He is easy to listen to, clear, and concise. That’s most of the battle right there. But I did have two or three problems with the course. I felt it was occasionally like the old history course you hated in college: A barrage of names and dates that felt disconnected from each other and from the theme of the lecture. He gives very precise dates, and it feels somehow like he’s expecting you to remember those dates for each person he talks about. My other problem was that I felt like the course was more of a chronological tour of the history of science than a thematic view of history. I really wanted to get more of a feel of the major themes rather than what felt like a more haphazard tour along (fairly) strict chronological lines. Finally, there were times when I felt like Prof. Principe’s presentation was very highly scripted. In particular, the first two lectures and the last lecture felt like he was reading from a book rather than speaking to a class. After I listened to the first lecture, I thought I’d never make it through the class. But that fear proved to be unfounded as he hit his stride in later lectures. I think this course compares poorly to Prof. Gregory’s course on the same subject from 1700-1900. Although Prof. Gregory isn’t nearly as polished, and nowhere near as pleasant to listen to, his course is so much more tightly structured and thematic that I enjoyed it a great deal more than this course. This difference may be more due to the fact that Prof. Principe has to cover nearly three thousand years and Prof. Gregory can focus on 200. Overall, this is a very good course, but not a great one. I found Prof. Gregory’s course on 1700-1900 much more interesting, not least because it relates so much more closely to our current scientific world. If your interest is purely in seeing how we got to where we are today, you will find the 1700-1900 course much more relevant and interesting. If your interest is more historical than scientific, this course is interesting, and you won’t go wrong getting both.
Date published: 2011-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterful Scholarship and Teaching Prior to this course, I thought that I was sufficiently familiar with the history of science and the related broader history of Western civilization, so I didn’t expect to get much from the course, and I even feared that I might find the course boring. Boy was I wrong! This course is absolutely packed with interesting and useful information -- most of which was new to me -- and the course is an intellectual joy overall, surely in no small part because the lecturer, Lawrence Principe, is clearly a master teacher who really knows his stuff (two PhDs!). I looked forward to every lecture and I was sad to have the course come to an end. A detailed history course like this can’t be effectively summarized, but here are some of the broader key points which I was able to discern: (1) The beginnings of Western science can be traced back to ancient Greek civilization, with influences from prior ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. (2) Since its beginnings, Western science has always been intertwined, to varying degrees, with philosophy, religion, mathematics, technology, art, and other aspects of culture. Indeed, the term “science” wasn’t coined until 1834 and science didn’t emerge as a distinct profession until the 1800s. (3) Science has always involved the assumption that the world has important uniformities which are at least partly intelligible. Of course, the source of these uniformities has been debated, with some thinkers offering theological answers and others arguing that we can’t even begin to answer this question. (4) Science has always wrestled with the profound issues of appearance versus reality, change versus continuity, observation versus contemplation, and prediction versus explanation. (5) The existence of multiple simultaneously competing paradigms, theories, models, hypotheses, etc. has been common in the history of science. (6) Ideas (eg, atomism) have often recurred, usually in modified forms, throughout the history of science. (7) Until the scientific revolution, teleological thinking was common in science, and such thinking is still found (at least informally) in some branches of modern science, especially biology and the human sciences. (8) After the decline of the Roman empire, Islamic civilization was the leading center for sophisticated thinking (including scientific thinking) in the Western world for several centuries, until the high Middle ages. (9 Around the same time that Islamic civilization declined, Latin Western civilization began to flourish again. One of its important new institutions was the university, which fostered some forms of orthodoxy, but also promoted serious scholarly study and debate, including work in science (natural philosophy). (10) Contrary to common misconceptions, alchemy, astrology, and even natural “magic” were serious and rigorous areas of study in their day, all aiming at practical applications. (11) While the Renaissance did introduce a renewed emphasis on humanism as well as other changes, it was also largely a continuation of developments already initiated during the high Middle ages. Thus, “the Renaissance” was not the first renaissance. (12) Science has always been a collective effort, especially as it has become increasingly institutionalized. I have no negative criticisms whatsoever of this course, and I strongly recommend it to anyone with even a mild interest in Western intellectual and scientific history. Unless you’re already an expert in the history of science, you’ll learn a lot from this course, and you’re likely to be fascinated by what you learn. This is teaching at its best -- exactly what TTC is meant to bring us!
Date published: 2010-09-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid but unspectacular My take on this course differs slightly from the other reviewers'. I would have enjoyed this course more had I not previously watched Prof. Principe's "Science and Religion" course, which I loved. In that course, Principe is at the top of his game, much more animated and engaging than in this course. Furthering my perspective on this particular course, having seen the later two courses in this three-part "History of Science" series from TTC, this first one was the weakest. I would not, however, have found the courses from professors Gregory and Goldman so rewarding had I not first taken this course. Of the 36 lectures, the first third (covering the Classical period) and last third (covering the Renaissance) were best. I found that the middle 12 lectures covering the Middle Ages were very dull, much longer on facts and shorter on insight than I'd like. Although more analytical, the other two thirds of the course were also too expository for my taste...although other reviewers here clearly differ with me! Overall, I'd recommend the course as a solid but unspectacular first course in a very worthwhile three-part series.
Date published: 2009-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for non-science folks too! My husband is the scientist in the family but after watching Dr. Hazen's "Joy of Science" course I felt I could tackle this course. I was right! Dr. Principe is an awesome presenter and although he covered a long time span of history was able to put the beginnings of science in historical perspective along with the progress of civilization (and all that it entails). It was a well rounded course and fortunately one of our first course selections since I don't consider any science course off limits to me now. My husband enjoyed the review of his knowledge plus learned much more. Excellent course. We highly recommend it. We watched the History of Science 1700-1900 with Dr. Gregory after we completed this one (also great).
Date published: 2009-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Principe is Awesome! This is an excellent and extremely informative course. Professor Principe’s knowledge, presentation style and obvious humility make this history of science course refreshing! Rather than just a bunch of isolated facts put in chronological order, This good professor makes relevant and insightful connections that almost makes us forget that history in the post modern world, by its transformation into the “social-sciences”, is supposed to bore us to tears. No, he recovers the humanity in both history and science that used to be a requirement before the ‘social experimenters’ got their way and corrupted the humanities, much as Dr. Frankenstein when he created that monster. Don’t pass this course up, you will very pleased at how enjoyable it is to learn from a wonderfulpProfessor like Professor Principe.
Date published: 2009-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More Like a History of Thinkers and Thought As other reviewers have noted this is more than a history of science. This course while thoroughly covering scientific thought from the Babylonians to Newton provides a panorama of philosophy, art, religion, and politics of those same 2300 years or so. The professor's style and wit are enthralling. The course's subjects and coverage is enlightening. Whatever you thought you knew about western history and thought - you will know more after this course. The lectrures are consistently excellent and is abundantly sprinkled with those gems and anecdotes that make your day to hear, e.g., Empedocles peaking olut of a window in Signorelli's fresco in the cathedral in Orivieto. Dr. Principe is as evenhanded as he is complete in covering this topic. He debunks several historical canards, e.g., Galileo's treatment of and by the Catholic Church. This course is everything it is advertized to be and more. Take this course and you will learn about the History of Science up to 1700 and you will learn much more than that. Finally, this professor's delivery makes it fun to learn. Professor Principe's shorter course on Science and Religion is an excellent adjunct to this course and exposes many prejudices and outright misrepresentations widely accepted today. Bottom line: you will learn a lot from Dr Principe, he is worth you time and money.
Date published: 2009-07-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History of a lot more than just Science Wow-- this course covered a lot of ground. In addition to what I think of as true "science", there was a LOT of discussion of such things as religion and philosophy, as well as astrology, alchemy, and so forth, to put the development of science into proper historical perspective (which is a good thing). However, there is a heavy-handed religious slant to the presentation and content, which I find quite strange in a course purportedly about the history of "science". I was surprised to see how Galileo, for example, himself was blamed for the actions of the Catholic Church (huh?)... that sort of nonsense. I really want to know why and how "science" has had so much trouble developing (IMO) through the centuries, and this course, despite its heavy pro-religion bias, provided a very broad and diverse background for my further research. I once took a course on the History of Philosophy, and was practically bored to tears by the dull presentation-- no such problem here. The professor is quite engaging, and his organization of material is excellent. Highly recommended. Get ready to learn about the history of... far more than just Science.
Date published: 2009-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was a great course. As a non-scientest, I found the developmental history of science fascenating.
Date published: 2009-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Series on the History Of Science History of Science: Antiquity to 1700 Taught by Lawrence M. Principe 36 lectures This course serves as the first third of a trilogy on the history of science offered by the Teaching Company spanning from antiquity to the modern era. This course follows science and technology from its earliest roots in Babylonian to the beginning of the Eighteenth Century. The lecture series is divided into three parts focusing on the ancient world,the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution. Several lectures discuss the important role of the Islamic world had in scientific developments during the Middle Ages. Dr. Principle approaches the subject of the history of science from the perspective of its relationship to the social values and religious ideals of the time. Dr. Principle is an extremely well organized speaker.He is a passionate speaker who is well versed in both the history of science and theological and social forces active at the era. He is able to convey complex ideas and relationships with a rare clarity of style Be sure to consider the other excellent courses in the trilogy, The History of Science 1700-1900 taught by Frederick Gregory, and the superb course, Science in the Twentieth Century by Steven L. Goldman. Dr. Principle has also created a fantistic course with TTC titled Science and Religion.
Date published: 2009-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am a biologist and this was a good class Thought this class covered a lot of history and basic science concepts in the time it had. I even learned a few new facts and this was a great review of what I already learned. Would recommend for high school science students and those who are generally interested in science. I though the CD presentation worked well, on sale price was ok but full price is too high
Date published: 2009-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great course! Includes other Historical information and one nice perspective. Maybe went a little easy on Catholic church and thier book burnings (not mentioned)
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A very interesting overview of the evolution of scientific thought.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I really appreciate the lists of books for further reading. Of course knowledge is endless and your courses really help me to develop more focus and direction for my quest.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding. Pulls together in one place, much of what I learned in scattered physics, chemistry, engineering, and philosophy courses. Puts science in a context that greatly facilitates understanding how we got to where we are.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Even for a non scientist, this is fascinating material presented by a superb teacher. Prof. Principe's discussion of Aristotle's natural philosophy is alone worth the cost of the entire course. A great learning experience!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The History of Science - Antiquity to 1700: Statements like: "Question of Creation vs. Evolution Not Yet Resolved" do not belong in a science course! Keep theology out!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A balanced course by a great professor.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Principe was a true pleasure to listen to. I was dissappointed to finish the course.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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