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A History of the Growth of the Steam-Engine

The Aristotelian method of observing facts


The

greatest of all the great men who lived at Alexandria at the time of the establishment of the museum was Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander and the friend of Ptolemy. It is to Aristotle that we owe the systematization of the philosophical ideas of Plato and the creation of the inductive method, in which has originated all modern science. It is to the learned men of Alexandria that we are indebted for so effective an application of the Aristotelian philosophy that all the then known sciences were given form, and were so thoroughly established that the work of modern science has been purely one of development.

The inductive method, which built up all the older sciences, and which has created all those of recent development, consists, first, in the discovery and quantitative determination of facts; secondly, when a sufficient number of facts have been thus observed and defined, in the grouping of those facts, and the detection, by a study of their mutual relations, of the natural laws which give rise to or regulate them. This simple method is that--and the only--method by which science advances. By this method, and by it only, do we acquire connected and systematic knowledge of all the phenomena of Nature of which the physical sciences are cognizant. It is only by the application of this Aristotelian method and philosophy that we can hope to acquire exact scientific knowledge of existing phenomena, or to become able to anticipate the phenomena

which are to distinguish the future. The Aristotelian method of observing facts, and of inductive reasoning with those facts as a basis, has taught the chemist the properties of the known elementary substances and their characteristic behavior under ascertained conditions, and has taught him the laws of combination and the effects of their union, enabling him to predict the changes and the phenomena, chemical and physical, which inevitably follow their contact under any specified set of conditions.

It is this process which has enabled the physicist to ascertain the methods of molecular motion which give us light, heat, or electricity, and the range of action and the laws which govern the transfer of energy from one of these modes of motion to another. It was this method of study which enabled James Watt to detect and to remedy the defects of the Newcomen engine, and it is by the Aristotelian philosophy that the engineer of to-day is taught to construct the modern steamship, and to predict, before the keel is laid or a blow struck in the workshop or the ship-yard, what will be the weight of the vessel, its cargo-carrying capacity, the necessary size and power of its engines, the quantity of coal which they will require per day while crossing the ocean, the depth at which the great hull will float in the water, and the exact speed that the vessel will attain when the engines are exerting their thousand or their ten thousand horse-power.

It was at Alexandria that this mighty philosophy was first given a field in which to work effectively. Here Ptolemy studied astronomy and "natural philosophy;" Archimedes applied himself to the studies which attract the mathematician and engineer; Euclid taught his royal pupil those elements of geometry which have remained standard twenty-two centuries; Eratosthenes and Hipparchus studied and taught astronomy, and inaugurated the existing system of quantitative investigation, proving the spherical form of the earth; and Ctesibius and Hero studied pneumatics and experimented with the germs of the steam-engine and of less important machines.


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