In my opinion Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) invented the scientific method. However this is an incredibly contentious statement because the scientific method, in it’s current form, has developed throughout the ages and continues to do so to this day. Consequently “who developed the scientific method” is perhaps a more valid, question. Nonetheless who invented the scientific method is a perfectly reasonable starting point.
So why do I say Aristotle?
Well in order to answer that we first need to answer two questions. Firstly what does the term “invented” mean and secondly what is the scientific method?
The dictionary definition of the the word ‘invented’ is:
to create or design something that has not existed before. To be the originator of.
Similarly the scientific method (very broadly speaking) can be said to be:
Ask a Question
Use your experience, gathered through observation and established knowledge, to come up with a possible answer.
Construct a logical argument that may explain why your answer is true, based upon your experience.
Test your argument by seeing if it matches up to experience.
Thinks about what your new experience means and decide if it indicates that your answer is either ‘true’ or ‘false.’
Tell other people about it and build the body of knowledge.
So, in order to answer the question “who invented the scientific method” we need to answer the following:
Who was the first person known to have defined how we prove an answer to a specific question is either true or false by comparing it to what experience tells us is real?
This may be a pretty hard concept to get your head round. The idea of basing decisions upon what we observe or know to be true seems so fundamental to us that it’s hard to imagine there ever being a time when it wasn’t the case. Rather like the advent of the wheel or controlled fire, this moment was a real turning point in human evolution.
Of course, prior to Aristotle people had been using this method everyday. If they hadn’t they would never know when or where to plant crops or cast their fishing nets. They observed things to be ‘true’ and behaved accordingly. However what can be said is that, before Aristotle, no one had distinctly identified or explained what we have now come to call ‘empiricism.’
One of the problems in claiming that Aristotle invented the scientific method is that he did not place great emphasis upon observation. Rather he focused upon a process of deductive reasoning called syllogisms. Basically a syllogism is the logical construction of a conclusion (the proposition) derived from two other known truths (the premises.)
However what is clear is that Aristotle valued observation as a means of acquiring knowledge. Aristotle stated that experience was an important factor in deciding a propositions validity and further that experience comes from a combination of memory and perception. We also know that Aristotle spent a great deal of time observing nature.
Therefore it is possible to say that Aristotle was the first person to have defined how to prove if an answer to a question is either true or false, by comparing it to what experience tells us is real?
And that means Aristotle is the person who invented the scientific method.