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81. Whewell


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00084.x


William Whewell was born in 1794. He was the son of a carpenter. In spite of a rather sickly childhood, he was intellectually precocious. At Cambridge his talent was quickly recognized, and the expectations for him were high. He fully overcame the sickliness of his youth to become imposing and robust as a man, adventurous and rambunctious in his intellectual life. He helped to introduce the newer French mathematical techniques as a substitute for the outdated Newtonian ones taught at Cambridge and advocated mathematics as a foundation for good thinking in his research on pedagogy. For a while he was a mineralogist, a subject he studied under Mohs in Germany. He studied the tides and sought to determine the mean density of the Earth by comparing the motions of pendulums on the surface and in the interior of the Earth, in mines. He became a specialist on the architecture of cathedrals, which he inspected while traveling in Europe. He wrote poetry and studied languages. But all these activities brought him no great accomplishment or success. It was only when he turned his hand to the history and philosophy of science that he became a figure of major importance. His place in the history of the philosophy of science has by no means been secure, but his views have always reemerged, even though at various times they have been thoroughly rejected as not even serious. He was reputed to be ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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