History and Philosophy Of Science | Magic, Mysticism, and the Scientific Revolution
X100 | 2901 | Dane Daniel


A general aim of the course is to explore what is meant
by “science,” and to differentiate it from “pseudo-
scientific,” “superstitious,” or “occult” approaches to the natural
world.  Another goal is to come to some understanding of the
relationships among science, culture, religion, and philosophy.  Our
exploration, occurring in the setting of the Scientific Revolution
of the 16th and 17th Centuries, entails case studies revealing an
interesting cohabitation of “science” and “pseudo-science.”  The
central figure in our investigation of the place of magic and
mysticism in the Scientific Revolution is Theophrastus Bombast von
Hohenheim, called Paracelsus (1493/4-1541), a famous and infamous
physician and natural philosopher.  To what extent does one
find “scientific” elements in the alchemical medicine of
Paracelsus?  Are the religious qualities of his cosmology
necessarily incompatible with science?  We shall ask similar
questions with regard to Johannes Kepler’s Neoplatonic depiction of
the music of the spheres and note that “occult” elements may be
found in Robert Boyle’s mechanical philosophy or Isaac Newton’s
description of the universe.  While investigating these questions,
we shall keep track of the significant changes that occurred in
researchers’ understanding of and relation to nature during the
Scientific Revolution.  To what extent was science moving toward a
careful, objective investigation of nature, untainted by cultural,
philosophical, and theological prejudices?  We shall also examine
ways in which seemingly “superstitious” approaches to nature (e.g.
natural magic, alchemy, astrology) used to hold “scientific”
status.  How have “occult” concepts and world views contributed to
the development of science, and should this effect the way we
evaluate “occult” ideas?  Also, is it a dubious practice to
selectively choose to examine only those aspects of revolutionary
scientific thinkers that we consider to be “modern,” such as
Paracelsus’ antisepsis or Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion,
excluding the mystical elements of their thought?  If so, why?