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Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature, known in Latin as philosophia naturalis, is a term applied to the objective study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered the precursor of what is now called natural science, especially physics.
Natural philosophy was the term describing a field of study whose usage preceded our current term natural science (from scientia in Latin, which means "knowledge") when the subject of that knowledge or study was "the workings of nature". Natural philosophy pertains to the work of analysis and synthesis of common experience and argumentation attempting to explain or describe nature, while the term science in the 16th century and prior was also used, and used exclusively, as a synonym for knowledge or study. The term "science", as in "natural science", gained the meaning of science in the modern sense when knowledge acquisition through experiments (special experiences) regulated by the scientific method became its own specialized branch of study over and above natural philosophy.
Major branches of natural philosophy include astronomy and cosmology, the study of nature on the grand scale; etiology, the study of (intrinsic and sometimes extrinsic) causes; the study of chance, probability and randomness; the study of elements; the study of the infinite and the unlimited (virtual or actual); the study of matter; mechanics, the study of translation of motion and change; the study of nature or the various sources of actions; the study of natural qualities; the study of physical quantities; the study of relations between physical entities; and the philosophy of space and time.
During this time the laws which governed motion truly began to take shape. Newton put forth his inverse square law of gravitation, Kepler’s Laws explained the elliptical orbits of the planets, and John Wallis suggested the conservation of momentum. Newton also showed that white light could be split into coloured and suggested that items do not generate their own colour but interact with the light to produce it.
Just as improved microscopes allowed man to look smaller, improvements in telescopes allowed for more in depth study of the stars and all six planets. Jupiter and Saturn are discovered to have moons and Saturn to have rings. The erratic paths of Ptolomy’s circles to explain the movement of the planets is being replaced by the notion of elliptical orbits around the sun.
Female Natural Philosophers
While of course men were dominant in this field, some ladies nonetheless were reknown for their knowledge.
- Bradstreet, Ann; 1612/13 - 1672; English
- Elisabeth, Princess of Bohemia; 1618 - 1680; German
- Cavendish, Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle; 1623 - 1673; English.
- Conway, Anne Finch, Viscountess of; 1631 - 1678; English