Modern Science and Natural Philosophy

A short entry about modern science that originated from and also differs from ancient and medieval natural philosophy.

The term ‘science’ comes from the Latin word for knowledge, scientia. From our point of view, science is the systematic study of, or way of learning about, nature and the physical universe by means of the scientific method.

Essentially, the scientific method encompasses reproducible observations and experiments besides the asking of questions which, in turn, lead to the forming of hypotheses, the making of testable predictions and, then, the development of general theories. In the process, these hypotheses, predictions and theories are always subject to further observations as well as experimental testing.

As far as the study of nature as a separate subject was concerned, commonly employed expressions in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods were ‘philosophy of nature’ or ‘natural philosophy’. Correspondingly, the scholars engaged in it were called natural philosophers.

In general, natural philosophy in the ancient period and in the Middle Ages is different to the way of practicing science today. Unlike modern science, medieval natural philosophy – similar to the ancient philosophy of nature – lacked a tradition in experimentation. Accordingly, natural philosophers did not focus on direct observations and practical experiments.