Book: Civility And The Decline Of Magic by Keith ThomasOne of the most puzzling aspects of the emergence of a new kind of world in the last few centuries in the West is the development of what we now call 'science'. The shift from a magical and religious dominated cosmology to a mechanistic and secular one, though far from complete and far from confined to the period roughly between 1550 and 1850, is in general undisputable. Until that time it had not happened in other civilizations such as China, Japan or the Islamic world, which had much earlier reached a higher level of craft knowledge than anything then current in Europe. So why did it happen where it did, when it did, and why did it happen at all? A number of historians, for example Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault, have drawn attention to the 'paradigmatic' or 'epistemic' shift manifested in the work of Galileo, Descartes and others. Yet while providing examples of the shift, neither has been able to put forward any plausible explanation of why the shift occurred. Indeed they both specifically state that they leave it to others to explain why. More recently we have been given an excellent, revised, picture of the earlier magic cosmology and its continuity with the later 'scientific' one by Stuart Clark. Yet once again, the author explicitly states that he is not attempting to provide any explanation of why the cosmologies changed over time. Some of the most stimulating suggestions concerning the reasons for the change have, in fact, come from anthropologists, who draw attention to the importance of literacy, the 'trade-travel' complex, Protestantism, the clash of cultures and other factors in the movement to the 'Open society' of modern science and technology.
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