18 June 2018


There were scientists long before we had the word "scientist" to describe them. The word really doesn't appear until 1834,when it was coined from Latin scientia by the Rev. William Whewell, a Cambridge University historian and philosopher. He wrote it in the same paragraph in which he coined "physicist."

The word "science" was already in use having come from Middle English via Middle French back to Latin scientia meaning "knowledge" as equivalent to scient- (stem of sciēns), present participle of scīre to know + -ia .

A scientist was first seen as a kind of artiste, in the sense of one who cultivates one of the arts presided over by the Muses (history, poetry, comedy, tragedy, music, dancing, astronomy. By the 17th century, it was also used for "one skilled in any art or craft" which would have included professors, surgeons, craftsmen, cooks etc. ). Since mid-18c. especially of "one who practices the arts of design or visual arts."

Aristotle was described as a natural philosopher.
Was he a scientist?

In 1840, Whewell said that Leonardo da Vinci was mentally a seeker after truth and so he was a scientist. Whewell was the master of Trinity College at Cambridge and a fairly good scientist himself in writing about geology, oceanic tides, and mathematics.

At the time, he was friends with scientists of the day such as Faraday and Darwin. Whewell was one of the Cambridge dons whom Charles Darwin met during his education there, and when Darwin returned from the Beagle voyage he was directly influenced by Whewell, who persuaded Darwin to become secretary of the Geological Society of London. The title pages of On the Origin of Species open with a quotation from Whewell's Bridgewater Treatise about science founded on a natural theology of a creator establishing laws:

"But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this—we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws."

Michael Faraday is best known for his study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. He is responsible for discovering the laws of electrolysis, and for popularizing terminology such as anode, cathode, electrode, and ion - all terms proposed in large part by William Whewell.

Whewell was writing a book, The Philosophy of the Inductive Science, which helped lay out basic questions in science like: How do you come up with a hypothesis? How do you prove it? Should it be universal?

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