Classical and Baconian Sciences in the 17th and 18th Centuries

The complex series of events tat goes under the name of " Scientific Revolution " had in effect a number of features. According to Kuhn, on one side it was a result of a conceptual transformation in the " classical " sciences (astronomy, mechanics, optics, harmonics), on the other side it started a large experimentation in new " Baconian " fields (electricity, magnetism, chemistry, thermology). Three paradigms were competing at the end of the 17th century: the Cartesian, the Leibnitian and the Newtonian ones. Despite being in a large sense all part of mechanical view of nature, they featured substantial differences: on the active or passive role of matter, on the privilege given to dynamics or static, on the acceptance of perennial forces or of principles of conservation. Newton was influential on both the classical and the Baconian traditions with two approaches very different from each other, exposed in the Principia (1687) and Opticks (1704). The success of the Principia was such that for two centuries the Newtonian approach dominated the classical sciences. In the Baconian fields, the tendency towards quantification, strongly supported by the scientific culture of the Enlightenment of the late 18th century, was taking place along different and competing paths, also on the basis of Cartesians and Leibnitian approaches. Relevant here the role and the commitment of the Jesuits who, defeated in the field of classical sciences (astronomy, mechanics) were looking for a " revenge ". The theoretical works of Volta are deeply embedded in these debates.