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:: Michael R. Matthews ::

Chemistry and the Enlightenment: Engaging Students in the Cultural Contribution of Science

Michael R. Matthews

School of Education, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia


I wish to argue for the following nine theses:

1. Education, in the Liberal Tradition, is concerned with the betterment of individuals, society and culture.  The ‘Betterment’ thesis.

2. Science education can make distinct contributions to cultural betterment. The ‘Cultural’ thesis.

3. One important cultural contribution of science education is developing, by appropriate introduction of history of science a sense of belonging to, and participating in, a scientific tradition of thought that has successfully striven for an understanding of nature and for the improvement of society.  The ‘Tradition’ thesis.

4. All science programmes should ensure that students have some exposure to the milieu, personalities and accomplishments of the creators of the seventeenth century European Scientific Revolution.  They should appreciate both the scientific achievements and the new methodology and ontology which enabled the discoveries.  With Newton, Boyle and Priestly, chemistry students have a rich early heritage to learn about. The ‘Origins’ thesis.
5. The originators of the 17th century scientific revolution in Europe expected that their new methodology in natural philosophy (physical science) would be applicable to other areas of human inquiry and debate.  The ‘Extension’ thesis.

6. The social, religious, cultural and political circumstances of seventeenth century were appalling.  The ‘Background’ thesis.

7. The Enlightenment thinkers of the late 17th and 18th centuries consciously tried to extend the methodology of the new science to investigations, problems and disputes in religion, politics, economics, ethics and other areas.  The ‘Enlightenment’ thesis.

8. Despite a certain amount of heterogeneity among contributors to the Enlightenment, one can tease out at least ten common tenets of Enlightenment ideology.  The ‘Core’ thesis.

9. Science students should be suitably introduced to the aspirations, achievements and failures of the Enlightenment.  The ‘Examination’ thesis.