15 julio, 2024

Cumulative science: what it is, meaning, definition

What is cumulative science?

«Science is cumulative» It is a philosophical approach that postulates that knowledge is progressive and linear, obtained by science thanks to its investigations throughout history.

The concept refers to the search for solutions to various problems, and the need to resolve the questions of human existence. As things are discovered, the platform on which subsequent knowledge and discoveries are built is built.

Historians specialized in science have shown that scientific knowledge is a process of cultural acquisition where it is built on previous advances. Quoting Isaac Newton, each new generation will be able to see further, standing only on the shoulders of the scientific giants that came before them.

Many philosophers and theorists claim that the more discoveries are made and the more one learns from them, the progressively better understanding of the Universe that surrounds us will be available.

That is why it is said that science is cumulative, because from the beginning, when the first humans began to observe their environment, to the present, when future missions to the Moon and Mars are planned, everything that is known forms a succession of knowledge. , including the most primitive and the most advanced.

Cumulative science aims at progress

This concept began to gain strength during the Enlightenment, when free thought was introduced into all fields of society to give answers to previous beliefs based on scientific reasoning.

Empiricists and rationalists, such as René Descartes (1596-1650), affirmed that the use of appropriate methods for the search for knowledge would guarantee the discovery and justification of new truths.

Other more positivists joined this concept, ensuring that science, by accumulating empirically certified truths, promoted the progress of society.

Shortly after, other currents, such as Marxism and pragmatism, also supported in some way this motion of the search for human knowledge as a process of quasi-organic growth of culture.

Currently, this concept is accepted as one of the models to explain the nature of science and its purpose. The following examples clearly illustrate this model:

– Thanks to number notation and basic arithmetic invented by the Babylonians around 2000 BC, the Greeks and Arabs were able to develop geometry and algebra, respectively.

– This knowledge allowed Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and other Europeans to invent calculus and mechanics in the 17th century. Then we have mathematics as it is taught and used today.

– Without the proposals of Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) on genetics and its laws, it would not have continued and discovered that genes were part of a chromosome. From that point it was possible to determine that the gene is a molecule in the DNA. And this in turn helped give strength to the theory of natural selection supported by studies on genetic changes in the evolution of species.

– In addition, it was known that there were magnetic charges and static electricity from the observation of atmospheric phenomena such as lightning.

– Thanks to experiments to try to collect this energy, the Leyden capacitor was created in 1745, which managed to store static electricity.

– Next, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) defined the existence of positive and negative charges, and experimented with resistances. As a result, the battery was invented, the effect of electric currents was discovered, and experiments with electric circuits were made.

– On the other hand, the laws of the OHM and the ampere and units such as the joule were formulated. Without these progressive discoveries it would not have been possible to develop Tesla coils, Edison’s light bulb, the telegraph, the radio, diodes and triodes for electronic circuits, television, computers, mobile phones and a long etcetera.

From obscurantism to the Enlightenment

During the Middle Ages, knowledge about life, existence, and the universe was very limited. There were no communities of scientists, as in the last 400 years or so.

The church dominated and controlled the direction in which human thought had to find the answers to the problems and questions of everyday life. Any slightly different approach was immediately disqualified, rejected and condemned by the church.

Consequently, scientific progress and the search for knowledge were hampered by ignorance or fear of being labeled a heretic by the authorities.

The closest thing to scientific knowledge that was known were the texts of the time of the great Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, which the church half accepted. Based on these theories was the extension of what was known about the universe, nature and the human being.

When the time of maritime explorations arrived, the world’s first beliefs began to be challenged, but based on lived experience and observation, in other words empirical knowledge. This gave room and weight to the concept of reason or reasoning.

Thus came the scientific revolutions, between the 16th and 18th centuries, which began to divert attention away from the church as a centralized entity of absolute knowledge, towards scientific observation and scientific reasoning, as is done today.

Thus, in this age of «enlightenment» new discoveries and theories were made that completely challenged the perception of the universe and nature, as it was known.

Among these discoveries and theories stood out:

– The heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543).

– The movement of the planets by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630).

– The telescope of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

– Isaac Newton’s law of gravity (1643-1727).

– The blood circulation of William Harvey (1578-1657).

This era is known as the Scientific Revolution.

Thanks to this, the approach to the search for knowledge, the answers to life’s questions and the solution of everyday problems changed drastically.

As a result, communities of scientists were born and the scientific method was perfected.


Niiniluoto, Ilkka (2012). Scientific Progress. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Retrieved from plato.stanford.edu.
Dain Hayton. Science as Cumulative.

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