The significance of the idea of impetus for the development of Natural science

Juli­ta Slip­kauskaitė
Vil­nius Uni­ver­si­ty

The sig­nif­i­cance of the idea of impe­tus for the devel­op­ment of Nat­ur­al sci­ence

Abstract. In the dis­course around the­o­ries explain­ing sci­en­tif­ic progress, nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy of the Late Medieval Peri­od is seen as play­ing the role of apolo­get­ics. For philoso­phers of sci­ence, with their repu­di­a­tion of meta­physics, the task of pro­vid­ing a ratio­nal recon­struc­tion of how sci­en­tif­ic progress has occurred is nigh on impos­si­ble. Even ex-pla­na­tions such as the Pop­per­ian and the Kuhn­ian strain under great dif­fi­cul­ty and pro­vide only part­ly sat­is­fac­to­ry results. In his “Logik der Forschung” (1934) Karl Raimund Pop­per argues that meta­physics plays an acci­den­tal part in the emer­gence of new sci­en­tif­ic ideas. Cor­re­spond­ing­ly, in “Struc­ture of Sci­en­tif­ic Rev­o­lu­tions” (1962), by car­ry­ing out the­o­ret­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions and clas­si­fi­ca­tion of empir­i­cal facts with­out their meta-phys­i­cal premis­es, Thomas Kuhn comes to the con­clu­sion that nat­ur­al sci­ence was formed under the influ­ence of erro­neous inter­pre­ta­tions of Aris­totelian nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy pre­sent­ed by medieval nat­ur­al philoso­phers. These are some of the rea­sons why medieval­ists are still made to defend late medieval nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy from shal­low con­vic­tions that at medieval uni­ver­si­ties noth­ing of any sig­nif­i­cance to con­tem­po­rary sci­ence and phi­los­o­phy took place at all. Seek­ing to ren­der a frag­ment of a coher­ent recon­struc­tion of the devel­op­ment of nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy, I will inves­ti­gate one idea of late medieval phi­los­o­phy – the expla­na­tion of motion (impe­tus). The main state­ment of the paper holds that the ideas of late medieval nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy have a deci­sive sig­nif­i­cance for the devel­op­ment of mod­ern nat­ur­al sci­ence instead of acci­den­tal or neg­a­tive one. In the paper, fol­low­ing Aris­totelian philo­soph­i­cal approach, premis­es of Jean Buridan’s the­o­ry of impe­tus will be exposed. Then, debates over the expla­na­tion of pro­jec­tile motion are going to be pre­sent­ed, and final­ly, the nec­es­sary sig­nif­i­cance of this meta­phys­i­cal idea on the mod­i­fi­ca­tions of nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy is going to be ascer­tained.

Key­words: phi­los­o­phy of sci­ence, late medieval nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy, the­o­ry of impe­tus

DOI: 10.5840/dspl20192341


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