26 September 2017 from 16:00 to 18:30

Descartes Centre History of Science Colloquium

On 26 September a special edition of the Descartes Centre History of Science colloquium will be held. Stephen Gaukroger (Emeritus Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Sydney, Australia) will give a lecture entitled 'Science and Civilization'.

Civilization and science

In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century explorations of human nature the question was routinely posed in the context of the idea of civilization: both morality and culture were measured against the template of the values of civilization. Prior to the eighteenth century, civilization was associated with such things as successful political institutions, a cultural and religious life, literacy levels, social cohesion, prosperity, and a system of laws. But by the beginning of the nineteenth century, Western thinkers had begun to think that civilization was not possible without science.

French Englightenment throught

Gaukroger explores how this shift to science came about, focusing on French Enlightenment thought, where civilization was contrasted with superstition and barbarism. At the end of the eighteenth century, Condorcet rejected the very idea of any continuity with the past, assumed as much in d’Alembert’s genealogy as in Christian historians, in question.

What drives the move towards the wholly new form of society that Condorcet advocates is not a development in the arts or forms of government as such, but the sciences. As the embodiment of reason, science stands above the events that history describes, providing a prescriptive guidance that enables us to secure not just a freedom from barbarism and superstition, but something unlimited in its potential. Civilization is thereby given a rationale as something dynamic, by contrast with ‘static’ societies.

Prof. Stephen Gaukroger

About the speaker

Stephen Gaukroger, who was educated at London and Cambridge Universities, is Emeritus Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Sydney, Australia. He has published books on Descartes and Francis Bacon, but his research over the last twenty years has been centred on a long-term project on the emergence and consolidation of a scientific culture in the West in the modern era. Three volumes have appeared to date: The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1210-1685 (Oxford, 2006), The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680-1760 (Oxford, 2010), and The Natural and the Human: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1739-1841 (Oxford, 2016). Work on the fourth volume, on science and civilization in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is underway.

Start date and time
26 September 2017 16:00
End date and time
26 September 2017 18:30