Laying Geology's Groundwork

TO GEOLOGY The Foundations of a Science, 1650-1830. Rachel Laudan. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987. 278 pp. $27.50. BY JERE H. LIPPS A disparity exists in geology between causal and historical practitioners of the science. Perhaps most geologists aim to decipher the Earth’s history, but an ever-larger number is concerned with the causes of geological phenomena, making them more akin to physicists and chemists than to the British founding geologists typically held in suc

Jere Lipps
Mar 20, 1988

TO GEOLOGY

The Foundations of a Science, 1650-1830. Rachel Laudan. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987. 278 pp. $27.50.

BY JERE H. LIPPS

A disparity exists in geology between causal and historical practitioners of the science. Perhaps most geologists aim to decipher the Earth’s history, but an ever-larger number is concerned with the causes of geological phenomena, making them more akin to physicists and chemists than to the British founding geologists typically held in such high esteem. In this book, Rachel Laudan traces the roots of these two aims of geology, and finds that the historical objective, in fact, grew from causal geology practiced on the continent and did not involve the “founders” much at all.

Continental mineralogists in the 17th and 18th centuries, driven by an increasing demand for raw materials during the industrialization of Europe, attempted to explain the characteristics and formation of “minerals.” Jobs and technical...

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