The volume collects classics of Marxist historiography of science, including a new translation of Boris Hessen’s “The Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia” (1931), Henryk Grossmann’s “The Social Foundation of Mechanistic ...
Philosophy and Manufacture” (1935) and his Descartes’ New Ideal of Science. Universal Science vs. Science of an Elite, published here for the first time. These three papers, along with two very short pieces, present the classical Marxist analysis of the relation of science and technology.
In a detailed introductory essay the editors analyze the main arguments of these authors. They show that Hessen and Grossmann never attempted to explain the rise of modern science by the utilitarian motives of the scientists. On the contrary, they argue not that science developed in order to improve technology but rather by means of the study of technology. Marshalling a wealth of historical evidence, Hessen and Grossmann argue that technology served as the laboratory of scientific mechanics. This is the reason thatin physics mechanics developed first and that thermodynamics and electrodynamics followed later when the respective technologies (steam engines and dynamos) had made other aspects of nature experimentally manageable. Finally, the editors address Hessen’s thesis, that ideological commitments in the age of Newton prevented the formation of a consistent materialist world view on the basis of the new science.