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The Scientific Revolution 1550-1700


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy.

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation History and Philosophy of the Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Natural Sciences

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Psychology


Western knowledge and understanding of the natural world changed between 1550 and 1700. This period is conventionally called the “scientific revolution”. From one perspective, this period witnessed the development of many concepts used in present-day science, such as the concepts of law of nature, experiment, force, and planet, as well as the idea of modern science itself. From another perspective, however, the concerns and activities of natural philosophers of this period strike us as strange. In part, this strangeness is related to the social contexts in which they worked. In this course, we will switch repeatedly between the perspectives of familiarity and unfamiliarity to gain a fuller understanding of how people knew nature in early-modern Europe.

Course objectives

A student who has successfully completed this course is able to:

  • describe the state of the European sciences around 1550;

  • provide a narrative of the principal changes in the European sciences between 1550 and 1700;

  • discuss how selected museum artefacts exemplify and illustrate the historical development;

  • place the period 1550–1700 within the broader history of Western science;

  • discuss key schools and currents including: Aristotelianism, Copernicanism, mechanism, Cartesianism, experimental philosophy, Newtonianism;

  • reflect on the historiography of the “scientific revolution” and compare different historiographic interpretations of the period 1550–1700;

  • give a class presentation and write a paper on the above topics;

  • discuss the tension between Whiggish and anti-Whiggish orientations in history of science, using the period 1550–1700 as an illustration;

  • design and present a PhD-level research proposal on the topics of the course.


See: MA Philosophy 60 EC
See: MA Philosophy 120 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load (10 EC x 28 hrs): 280 hours

  • Class attendance: 13 × 3 hours = 39 hours

  • Reworking of class notes: 13 hours

  • Literature study (approx. 500 pages): 74 hours

  • Preparation for class presentation: 24 hours

  • Museum assignment: 10 hours

  • Writing of research proposal/final essay: 120 hours

Assessment method


  • Two compulsory presentations during the semester

  • Two shorter papers

  • Term paper

  • Oral class participation.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests.


One resit will be offered, covering the entire course content and consisting of a paper. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests. Class participation and practical assignments (presentations) are mandatory requirements for taking the tests and resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard is used for:

  • posting course material.

Reading list

  • John Henry, The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science. 2nd ed. Palgrave, 2002.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J.W. McAllister


Not applicable.