Issac Newton, John Lock, Robert Hooke, Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon...etc.

Was 17th century England somehow more conducive to excellent new ideas or was it no more outstanding than the rest of 17th century Europe?

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    It was no more outstanding than other centuries. You are essentially cherry picking ideas to be ground breaking from that time and place. That's very subjective. Objectively, there has been countless breakthroughs in other times and if you correct for population size and the technological context I don't think you can point to any difference. Objectively.
    – user17196
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 3:06
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


It was clearly a remarkable period for English scientific thought, but historians of science bicker about why. One very good reason might be the work of Sir Francis Bacon, essentialy the founding father of British 'natural philosophy. By the 1640's he had followers, described by Robert Boyle as the 'invisible college', which may refer to a group of early experimentalists who were meeting at Gresham College in London from 1645 until 1663, when they became The Royal Society. Charles the Second at the Restoration in 1660 became intersted in the groups activities. Royal patronage clearly fostered the growth of science. Perhaps the key political event, from the point of view of proto-scientists and philosophers was the 'Glorious Revolution'of 1688. By the turn of the 18th Century, Britain was regarded as the most progressive, the freest country in Europe, widely admired by the early French philosophes for its free thinking and political liberties. Science and philosophy need freedom in which to operate, I would wish to argue.

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    If I were to point at a cause, it would indeed be the Glorious Revolution, and the freedom of thought and deed that ensued.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 13:19
  • @T.E.D. just a thought, is that cause and effect, or two outcomes of what I can only cause the zeitgeist? Essentially England had her revolution against oppressive monarchical /quasi- theocratic regimes early - 1640s and 1688. And England was a relatively fluid society - bright boys could rise, and peers' younger sons joined the gentry/upper middle classes - it was not a caste system.
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 17:37
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    @TheHonRose - That's almost exactly what I was getting at. For example, Newton came from a very humble background (and with a really crappy homelife). If he'd been born 100 years earlier, there's no way he would have been able to hang out in the circles he ended up in, and likely would have lived his life as a very unhappy farmer.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 18:08
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    I think a genius born in Russia at this period would have had a harder time of it. Geniuses are born everywhere I guess, but Bacon with his connections was able a)to get in print and b)attract readers,
    – marchanti
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 23:55
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    Can you draw a straight line, therefore, between Magna Carta, the English revolution and the English enlightenment? Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 4:05

Certainly, social and economic conditions in England are responsible for this. Wikipedia says this shortly:

By the early 17th century, England was a centralized state, in which much of the feudal order of Medieval Europe had been swept away.

(the article Capitalism). Similar process went on in Holland, Germany and France, but Germany was not a centralized state, in France the feudal order was swept away only a century later, and Holland was too small in comparison with England.

Apparently in the very beginning of 17 century England became the most advanced country in all respects. Why industrial revolution happened in England earlier than elsewhere? Why the revolution against absolutism happened in England first? All these things are interrelated, and a complete answer would include an analysis of the whole history of England.

By the way the greatest advance of science in France happened shortly before and after the French revolution, but this was in the next century. So apparently development of capitalism and political freedom are responsible for surges of intellectual activity.

EDIT. Britain clearly takes the lead only in the later half of 17th century. In the earlier half there were Kepler in Austria, Galileo in Italy, Descartes, Fermat and Pascal in France, and no comparable figures in Britain, except Napier.

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    I'd argue that your "in the very beginning of 17 century England became the most advanced country in all respects" is incorrect. Maybe from the middle of the 17th century, but for the first half of that century, it was the Dutch. Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 20:25
  • Perhaps you are right. But it was quickly moving in this direction.
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 21:14

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