Regents Prep: Global History: Change & Turning Points:
Scientific Revolution

The Scientific Revolution changed the way people thought about the physical world around them.  The same spirit of inquiry that fueled the Renaissance, led scientists to question traditional beliefs about the workings of the universe.  The most prominent scientists of this time include, Copernicus, Galileo, and Isaac Newton.

The Scientific Method
The basis for the Scientific Revolution was the Scientific Method.  The scientific method uses observation and experimentation to explain theories on the workings of the universe. This process removed blind adherence to tradition from science, and allowed scientists to logically find answers through the use of reason.  This method of research is the basis for modern science.

Nicolaus Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the universe.  This states that the sun is the center, and that the earth revolves around it.  Despite his calculations, many scholars disagree with his theories and continue to believe in the geocentric model proposed by the ancient Greek Ptolemy 1500 years earlier.

Galileo: Galileo continues Copernicus' work by observing the skies with a homemade telescope.  Although he was able to prove Copernicus correct, his work was rejected by the Church and he was forced to recant (take back) or face execution.

Newton: Isaac Newton built upon the earlier work of Copernicus and Galileo and used mathematics to describe gravity as the force that keeps planets revolving around the sun.  He also explained that this same force is what causes objects to fall to earth.

The Scientific Revolution had far reaching effects.  Besides changing the way people thought about the universe, the use of the Scientific Method resulted in discoveries in medicine, physics, and biology.  

The Enlightenment
Another result of the Scientific Revolution was the Enlightenment.  The Enlightenment changed the way people lived as political and social scholars began to question the workings of society and government, while rejecting traditional ideas.  While the Scientific Revolution focused on the physical world, the Enlightenment attempted to explain the purpose of government, and describe the best form of it.  The most influential Enlightenment thinkers were Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Voltaire, Baron de Montesquieu, and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Enlightenment Thinkers
Descartes: Rene Descartes was a French intellectual who challenged traditional ideas.  He said that human reason was capable of discovering and explaining the laws of nature and man.  The idea of human reason being superior to tradition led to the beginning of the Enlightenment, a time of political awakening that became revolution.

Hobbes: Thomas Hobbes based his theories on government on his belief that man was basically greedy, selfish, and cruel.  In his book, Leviathan, Hobbes states that life would be a state of constant warfare without a strong government to control man's natural impulses. He believed  people would enter into a Social Contract to escape from this.  In the Social Contract, people would exchange most of their freedoms for the safety of organized society.  Once people entered into this contract, there was no release.  Hobbes did not believe in revolutions, and supported the idea of absolute monarchs.

Locke: John Locke also based his theories on his assessment of human nature.  However, Locke believed that people could be reasonable and moral.  In his book, Two Treatises of Government, Locke explained that all men have Natural Rights, which are Life, Liberty, and Property, and that the purpose of government was to protect these rights.  Furthermore, Locke states that if government does not protect these rights, and becomes bad for the people, then they have a right to revolution.  Locke supported a limited government that protected people's natural rights.

Montesquieu: Baron de Montesquieu was an Enlightenment thinker from France who wrote a book called, The Spirit of the Laws in 1748.  In his book, Montesquieu describes what he considers to be the best government.  He states that government should divide itself according to its powers, creating a Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branch. Montesquieu explained that under this system each branch would Check and Balance the others, which would help protect the people's liberty.  The ideas of Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances can be seen in the government of the United States.

Voltaire: was a French intellectual who wrote and lectured about freedom of speech.  Voltaire is best known for saying, "I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  He believed that freedom of speech was the best weapon against bad government.  He also spoke out against the corruption of the French government, and the intolerance of the Catholic Church.

Rousseau: Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote a book called, The Social Contract, where he stated that people were basically good, and that society, and its unequal distribution of wealth, were the cause of most problems.  Rousseau believed that government should be run according to the will of the majority, which he called the General Will.  He claimed that the General Will would always act in the best interest of the people.

Enlightenment ideas helped to stimulate people's sense of individualism, and the basic belief in equal rights.  This in turn led to the Glorious Revolution is Britain, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Latin American Revolutions. Some of these revolutions resulted in government based upon the ideas of the Enlightenment such as, Great Britain and the United States.

Elsewhere, a few monarchs retained absolute control of their countries while also enacting reform based on Enlightenment ideas.  These monarchs are called Enlightened Despots.  In Austria, Maria Teresa and her son Joseph II both introduced reforms based on Enlightenment ideas.  They reduced the tax load on the peasants, provided free education, and ended censorship in their empire.  In Russia, Catherine the Great introduced similar reforms.  She enacted laws for religious toleration and free education, and also sought the advice of nobles and peasants in the running of government. However, these reforms seldom outlived the monarchs who had enacted them.


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