Kristian Camilleri reviews 'The Age of Genius: The seventeenth century and the birth of the modern mind' by A.C. Grayling

Kristian Camilleri reviews 'The Age of Genius: The seventeenth century and the birth of the modern mind' by A.C. Grayling

The Age of Genius: The seventeenth century and the birth of the modern mind

by A.C. Grayling

Bloomsbury $27.99 pb, 368 pp, 9781408870389

The seventeenth century was unquestionably one of the most tumultuous and transformative periods of European history. It was a century that saw Europe ravaged by war and religious conflict, the reimagining of a new political order, the break from the medieval scholastic worldview, and the birth of modern science. In his latest book, A.C. Grayling mounts a case for considering the seventeenth century as the most significant epoch in human history. In this retelling of the Enlightenment grand narrative, Grayling traces the dramatic changes that took place in politics, religion, philosophy, science, technology, letter-writing, and even literary style over the course of the seventeenth century, in an effort to locate the origins of ‘the modern mind’.

Grayling’s central thesis is that the political and religious turmoil of the seventeenth century created the conditions under which traditional forms of authority gradually lost their hold, thus opening the way for the emergence of the modern scientific worldview. This was an intellectual revolution forged amidst the devastation of the Thirty Years War, a renewed fascination with magic and the occult, and the quest for a new philosophical method. Here, Grayling provides a fascinating insight into the way in which changing social and political conditions contributed to the rise of early modern European scientific culture. The short chapter on the new developments of the European postal service provides a particularly striking example of how the rapidly changing social and technological context was instrumental in the spread of new ideas and the formation of the first scientific societies.

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Kristian Camilleri

Kristian Camilleri

Kristian Camilleri is a lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne. He completed his PhD in HPS at Melbourne University in 2005 and has published extensively in the history and philosophy of modern physics. In 2009 he published Heisenberg and the Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: The physicist as philosopher. He has also written on such topics as Galileo's thought experiments, the role of metaphors in science, and the recent debates over string theory. He teaches across a broad range of subjects in the history and philosophy of science, with a particular focus on the history of science, the epistemology of scientific practice, and the relationship between science and religion.

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