Since what historical event or what exact date is there a clear distinction between sciences?

According to my knowledge in antiquity there were many scientists who were all mathematicians, physicists, engineers, astronomers, and inventors, or some combination of those, without clear awareness that we have today that "this piece of knowledge belongs to physics", "this piece of knowledge belongs to engineering" etc.

Thank you.

  • 4
    My nonexact understanding is that the discretization and granularization of the sciences dramatically accelerated in 19th c Germany.
    – user58983
    Oct 16, 2022 at 13:19
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    Documenting preliminary research will improve both the probability of an answer and the quality of the answer(s). What leads you to believe that there is currently a distinction? That there has not always been? What about the Quadrivium & Trivium? physics & metaphysics? In the 70's there were efforts to reunify, and cross disciplinary is always a trend. Google ngram would seem to be useful
    – MCW
    Oct 16, 2022 at 14:18
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    An interesting thought I have from a different history forum is that a field of science is established around the era when their name is first used. So we can ask when were words biology, physics, chemistry first used?
    – Jane B.
    Oct 16, 2022 at 16:34
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    exact date? Of what? Of some people starting to separate them, or of no people to confuse them? It was a gradual process.
    – Mary
    Oct 17, 2022 at 1:25
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    All throughout history, until fairly recently, scientist were called philosophers. It can be argued that all sciences stemmed from philosophy, that's why there was no clear distinction between sciences - philosophers dabbled in them all. The split into scientific disciplines as we know now is very recent, but some distinctions can be seen as early as 17th century, when mathematics began to evolve, enough to support all scientific progress in all areas. This is in line with observations Smith made on division of labor by workers increasing efficiency and productivity.
    – AcePL
    Oct 17, 2022 at 8:00

2 Answers 2


The process is fairly straightforward. When there's little enough known about chemistry, biology, and physics that one person could easily be familiar with it all, it makes sense to just call them all Natural Philosophy (as Newton's contemporaries did). When that threshold is crossed, it makes more sense to have specialized Physicists, Biologists, and Chemists.

Timing-wise, it looks like the term "Natural Philosophy" came to be used rather than just "Philosophy" by the time of Aristotle, and continued in use until at least the mid 19th Century. However, you'll find that people didn't specialize in just Natural Philosophy until (as usual) just after the information explosion that came along with the printing press. Likewise by the mid 1800's, while it was still in use as an umbrella term, there were scientists exclusively specializing in the various branches of it. The process on that end would have been more gradual.

  • He probably meant physicists.
    – Jane B.
    Oct 17, 2022 at 21:56
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    Believe it or not, the browser spellcheck liked that word much better than the original spelling I tried. :-(
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 17, 2022 at 22:08
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    @T.E.D. I suggest you add a paragraph about Engineering. Basically, engineering is applied science - so applied electrical physics is electrical engineering, applied mechanics is mechanical engineering. These changes only arose in the past 100 years. Oct 18, 2022 at 0:46

There is far less distinction between the sciences than the lay person realizes.

The true distinction is in the quantity, and difficulty, of mathematics necessary to become a working professional - ie a lab technician - in the discipline. The vast majority of science Ph.D.'s are mere technologists resorted to begging for government grants on an annual basis so as to avoid the additional teaching responsibilities that they hate - possibly because their own understanding of the field is shallower and less secure than they'd care to admit.

  • 1
    While I agree with the sentiment, I recommend rewriting the answer to be more ironic and unapologetic, but less antagonizing (yes, I know....). Maybe something along the lines of: math support is needed for every other field of science, and when mathematics evolved sufficiently for that to happen specialization in sciences became so very granular it is becoming detached from reality and with that detachement increasing, the dependency on sustenance from the government is total...
    – AcePL
    Oct 18, 2022 at 8:04

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