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Title: Philosophy and science in the arts curriculum of the Scottish universities in the 17th century
Author: Shepherd, Christine M.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3403 0310
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1975
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The philosophical and scientific teaching in the universities of 17th century Scotland has frequently been dismissed as Aristotelian and reactionary. However, there must surely have been some development during the century for the universities to have achieved as much as they did in the 18th century. It is the purpose of this study to investigate the contant of the courses in philosophy and science given at the Scottish Universities in the 17th century with a view to answering the following quesions: Was Aristotle really taught so exclusively throughout the century? Or, given that the universities did concentrate on Aristotle to a great extent, was this Aristotleianism so monolithic and unifrom as is sometimes made out? Did Scottish university teachers make any acknowledgement of the philosophical and scientific revolutions which were taking place in the 17th century? How were the universities affected by the political and religeous struggles of the century? Was the teaching the same at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews, or were some of the universities in advance of the others? The main sources for our knowledge of 17th century Scottish university teaching are student lecture notes or dictates and the graduate theses produced by the masters or regents for the students to defend at the annual laureation ceremony. the dictates and theses are supplemented by library lists, university and faculty minutes, and the reports of the numerous commissions appointed by church and state to visit the universities during the 17th century, together with papers relating to these commissions. Throughout the century the curriculum at all universities remained the same in outline, viz. 1st year: Greek; 2nd years: Logic/ metaphysics; 3rd year: Metaphysics/ Ethics; 4th year: physics. Until the 1660s the teaching in the 2nd, 3rd and fourth years consisted of commentaries on Aristotle, but the authorities cited by the regents show that they were acquainted with more 'modern' Aristotalians, e.g. Zabarella and the Coimbra commentators. Frequently the works of such authors were praised, and the library lists show that they were bought extensively. From the 1660s onwards Cartesianism entered the courses. At first the regents distrusted this new philosophy, and indeed as long as Descartes was taught in the Scottish Universities, many of the regents and visiting commissioners feared the atheistic implications of Cartesian mechanism. However, descartes was accorded warm praise in the theses and dictates for Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Aberdeen during the 1670s and 1680s. by the 1690s the enthusiasm for Descartes was beginning to decline, although some of the regents continued to teach Cartesianism into the 18th century. In Logic and Metaphysics the teaching of Locke was often adopted, and in Physics Newtonian ideas were expounded. The teaching was perhaps most conservative in Logic, where Aristotelian ideas continued to be taught by the scholastic method of debate until the beginning of the 18th century. Despite the praises of Descartes's method, and later Locke, the scheme for Logic teaching was probably based on scholastic textbooks such as those of Keckermann and Burgersdijk. In Metaphysics too scolasticism tended to predominate, but because of Scotland's religeous allegiance there are numerous quotations from and references to the works of Protestant theologians. Once commentaries on Aristotle ceased, metaphysics was divided into Metaphysics proper and Pneumatology, the two subjects frequently being separated and taught in different years of the course. the Scottis regents saw Ethics as a strictly practical science, aimed at teaching their students how to live as godly citizens. Accordingly in their Ethics teaching they tended to cite authorities less frequently than in their teaching of other subjects; instead they gave rules of conduct for their students. After the 1660s many of the regents based their teaching on Henry More, and Descartes's theory of the passions was widely accepted. Discussion of different types of justice and of natural law formed a great part of the Ethics dictates and theses, and Grotius, Cumberland and Puffendorf were all referred to. In Physics the experiments of many contempory or recent scientists were described. Robert Boyle and the Royal Society were universally praised by the regents. the work of English, French and Dutch scientists featured prominently in the lectures from the 1660s onwards, and were bought for the libraries. Cartesian physics and cosmology were taught in the last quarter of the 17th century, but by the beginning of the 18th century many of the regents had gone over to Newtonianism.the politicl and religeous upheavals in 17th century Scotland affected staff appointments in the universities. many of the regents lost their posts in 1638 and during the Civil Wars, at the Restoration, and at the revolutioanry Settlement in 1689. Unorthodoxy in their dictates and theses was frowned on, and sometimes led to dismissal. Various commissioners tried to regulate what was taught in the universities, and in the 1690s a project for a uniform course made considerable headway. however, despite this interference on part of state and church, the universities managed to preserve a fair degree of autonomy, and both their statements in answer to the commission's proposals in the 1690s and the actual content of their dictates and theses show a concern to uphold their academic integrity. The courses in the Scottish universities were sufficiently similar to enable one to talk of 17th century Scottish university education in general terms, but the universities did not always agree amongst themselves, as their comments on each other's contributions to the uniform course show. Edinburgh seems generally to have been the most advanced of the universities in its teaching, Glasgow the least. the conclusion of this survey is that university education in the 17th century was by no means as consistently uninspired as is sometimes proposed. It is true that neither the system of regenting nor the troubled stare of the country in the 17th century were conductive to a high educational standard. Nevertheless, there is some evidence of new ideas in the dictates and theses from 1600 to the 1660s, and after that date many of the regents showed themselves to be conversant with new devlopments in all fields of philosophy. By the beginning of the 18th century the way had been paved for the intellectual achievements of that century in the universities.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Scottish university ; 17th century ; aristotle ; descartes ; philosophy ; science ; education ; regent ; logic ; metaphysics ; edinburgh ; aberdeen ; glasgow ; st.andrews