Hippocrates' Complaint and the Scientific Ethos in early Modern England
Among the elements of the modern scientific ethos, as identified by R.K. Merton and others, is the commitment of individual effort to a long-term inquiry that may not bring substantial results in a lifetime. The challenge this presents was encapsulated in the aphorism of the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates of Kos: vita brevis, ars longa (life is short, art is long). This article explores how this complaint was answered in the early modern period by Francis Bacon’s call for the inauguration of the sciences over several generations, thereby imagining a succession of lives added together over time. However, Bacon also explored another response to Hippocrates: the devotion of a ‘whole life’, whether brief or long, to science. The endorsement of long-term inquiry in combination with intensive lifetime involvement was embraced by some leading Fellows of the Royal Society, such as Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. The problem for individuals, however, was to find satisfaction in science despite concerns, in some fields, that current observations and experiments would not yield material able to be extended by future investigations.
Annals of Science
History and Philosophy of Science (incl. Non-historical Philosophy of Science)