"The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science": A Window of the Life and Work of E. A. Burtt, Twentieth-Century Pragmatist and Postmodern Thinker [Book Review]
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Dissertation, Mcgill University (Canada) (1999)
E. A. Burtt's The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science has been described by H. Floris Cohen, writing on the historiography of the Scientific Revolution in 1994, as the "individual thought of an individual thinker...beyond philosophical or historical currents or fashion." The book is something of a puzzle within the context of American twentieth-century intellectual history and more specifically, of the philosophy and history of science of North America and Europe. ;Burtt's inter-disciplinary study---as it would be called today---has proved to be both pioneering and prophetic in its rejection of both scientism and positivism. The thesis examines the author's novel interpretation of Isaac Newton's achievement, as well as that of Newton's predecessors in the Scientific Revolution. Burtt's singular view of the rise of modern science from religious underpinnings was, for the most part, either misunderstood or ignored at the time. In fact, the whole idea of a Scientific Revolution was only introduced into the curriculum at leading American universities following the Second World War, in response to Herbert Butterfield and Alexandre Koyre, both of whom owe unacknowledged debts to Burtt. ;The Metaphysical Foundations was conceived in the progressive era of the 1920s, the latter part of the "Golden Age" in American philosophy. The thesis examines the role of innovating intellects such as John Dewey, James Harvey Robinson, and Morris R. Cohen in shaping Burtt's view, described against the background of his studies at Columbia university. Under the sway of pragmatic naturalism, Burtt's interpretation of Newton was part of a grand scheme to develop a new philosophy of mind which he intended would overcome the problems of Cartesian dualism. ;The dissertation concludes with an extended analysis of Burtt's public, academic, and personal life based upon archives, correspondence and interviews with those who remember him. It considers his politics of conscience during the Cold War and concludes that integrity combined with the relentless search for philosophic understanding drove his more exotic philosophical quests and steered his personal life, including its tragic dimension, toward simple virtues
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