The Scientific Revolution

Ref: C3744597

This course traces the scientific knowledge and theories of the Ancient Greeks into Arabic philosophical thought in the Early Medieval period, then its later recapture by Latin philosophers who developed a new way of perceiving the world. This began with a change in understanding the place of humanity in the cosmos. Increasing doubts about the validity of Greek science led to the birth of the “Scientific Method”, articulated by Francis Bacon in the early 17th century. We shall examine the experiments and discoveries of Galileo, the expression of the sciences in the language of mathematics by the “Mechanical Philosophers” of Europe (including Descartes) and the further developments of Kepler, Huygens and Isaac Newton. Themes of the course include (1) the interplay between Science and Religion, and (2) the place of the "Occult Sciences" (Alchemy and Magic) in the development of science. The course ends with an assessment of whether a “Scientific Revolution” actually occurred.

Course aim

This course provides a historical understanding of the “Scientific Revolution” from 1543 to 1800, examined through the work and discoveries of Francis Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton and others.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Discuss scientific understanding in the period prior to The Scientific Revolution
  • Name and set out the basic theories and ideas of the main characters of The Scientific Revolution
  • Put the "Scientific Revolution" into its historical context, and discuss how some historians might dispute that a “revolution” actually occurred.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • Suggested reading lists will be provided week by week.

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading is required but research on the subject on the internet or in the library may be helpful
  • Recommended (but not required) reading: Shapin, S (1996) The Scientific Revolution, University of Chicago Press Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Consider introductory courses in more specific History of Science subjects, particularly those dealing with characters of the Scientific Revolution (Galileo, Newton and others). Various organisations produce relevant journals – the best known in the UK is

Download full course information sheet

The Scientific Revolution


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you book. Please could we ask that you check the list below to ensure you meet our basic criteria:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2019
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

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