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In this subject, we embark on a fascinating journey through the history of science, with a particular focus on how ideas about the nature of physical reality have changed over time. We begin the story with the birth of philosophy in ancient Greece in the sixth century BC and end in the twentieth century with Einstein’s revolutionary theory of gravity. Along the way, we will examine the enormous influence of Aristotle’s philosophy on Western thought, the revival of magic in the Renaissance, and the emergence of a new mathematical understanding of nature. Here we pay particular attention to the shift that took place in European thought in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which saw the acceptance of the idea that the earth is a planet revolving around the sun.
Students taking this subject will be introduced to the way in which philosophical and cultural movements, changing social and economic conditions, and new inventions all played a crucial role in shaping the development of modern science and our basic concepts of matter, force and energy. This subject provides a deeper understanding of the way in which the history of science has been shaped by wider social and intellectual contexts.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject should:
- Develop a broad understanding of the major conceptual shifts that occurred in the history of physical thought
- Develop an appreciation of the way in which wider intellectual and cultural movements shaped knowledge of the physical world in different historical eras
- Acquire an understanding of the different forms of explanation and modes of inquiry in the physical sciences
- Develop and awareness of the difficulties in understanding the thoughts and attitudes of people historically remote from us
- Acquire skills in writing clear, coherent and persuasive analyses of ambiguous and difficult issues
- Acquire skills in comprehending the meaning and historical significance of texts.
Last updated: 20 February 2024