Laura Snyder - The Philosophical Breakfast Club

When we think about scientists, and especially the birth of science, our minds usually go straight to Galileo, Descartes, Kepler and Newton, and then to folks like Michael Faraday, Joseph Priestly, Antoine Lavoisier, Lord Kelvin, Darwin, etc. Or maybe for some of you it goes all the way back to Thales, Democritus, Empedocles and Aristotle...

What most people don't know, however, is that none of these people called themselves 'scientists.' The term was only invented by the philosopher/scientist William Whewell during Darwin's lifetime to demarcate the work of experimental 'natural philosophers' and naturalists from that of 'philosophers' more broadly construed. Whewell came up with the word 'scientits' as the equivalent of 'artists' to separate those philosophers who worked according to inductive reasoning based on observation and experimentation from those that engaged in reasoning from first principles.

But Whewell wasn't content with simply assigning a different name to these experimental philosophers. Along with his friends Charles Babbage (inventor of the difference and analytic engines, and mentor to Ada Lovelace, the enchantress of numbers), John Herschel and Richard Jones, Whewell wanted to change the very nature of what science is, how it works and what purposes it strives to achieve. In the following TEDTalk, historian Laura Snyder (and I'm guessing by her tone, former museum tour-guide) tells the story of this fascinating scientific revolution, about which you can also read in her book The Philosophical Breakfast Club.



If you ever get a chance, you ought to read up on John Stuart Mill and William Whewell's battle to determine the precise nature of inductive reasoning, and how Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection got caught up right in the middle of it...
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