Etymology dictionaries mention the word science coming from the latin word scientia from the XII century, but they don't reference any written piece where it was recorded.

What's the first recorded use of the word scientia?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There is a Latin Language SE. You can check e.g. Cicero De Natura Deorum: "Sanctitas autem est scientia colendorum deorum". $\endgroup$
    – sand1
    Aug 13, 2020 at 20:19

1 Answer 1


Scientia is the Latin translation of Greek épistémè, it goes back to Plato and Aristotle. And it did not mean "science" in the modern sense. Theology was scientia too, as in a systematic body of provable knowledge, see Scientia by Demeter-Lang-Schmal:

"The ambiguity and heterogeneity of the modern term “science” is undeniable. Some put more emphasis on the instrumentality of potential technological output, some on the nature-controlling aspect, some on the universal laws, some on experimental foundations and empirical methodology, others on the institutional settings involving laboratories, funding schemes, professionalization, and academies. None of these approaches is helpful in understanding what scientia meant in the period between 1350 and 1650. Scientia in the first part of this period referred to any body of certain theoretical knowledge which approached its subject (not necessarily nature) in a systematic way and relied on apodictic demonstration. Thus scientia, unlike today, involved theology as well, because it was demonstrable knowledge."

[...] The term “scientia” is a long-standing heritage of Aristotelian logic and denotes an epistemic ideal pursued through several centuries. According to Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, knowledge that conforms to this ideal must consist of propositions that are universally and necessarily true. This necessity can be demonstrated through syllogistic inferences that proceed from premises containing the cause of the conclusion. This procedure leads to certain knowledge and understanding of the necessary cause of the phenomena and an explanation of why it is the way it is and cannot be otherwise."

Hall's Aquinas, Scientia and a Medieval Misconstruction of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics gives references to the 12th century Latin translations of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics where "scientia" appears:

"The first and most widely read translation was produced sometime in the second quarter of the twelfth century by James of Venice (Iacobus Veneticus), of whom little is known. The second translation came out some time before 1159, when it is cited in John of Salisbury’s Metalogicon, and is likely a recensio of James’s. Less still is known of its translator, whose name may have been John (Ioannes). Finally, there is the translation of William of Moerbeke (Guillelmum de Moerbeka), which was produced around 1269, and adopted by Aquinas around 1271."

  • $\begingroup$ I wonder why certain online etymology dictionaries claim scientia meant "experiential knowledge" by the XIV century, when theoretical knowledge is almost the opposite $\endgroup$
    – Pablo
    Aug 14, 2020 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, I dont understand at all what he meant when he said "Thus scientia, unlike today, involved theology as well, because it was demonstrable knowledge." I had to take Theology in one University and a lot of things said there werent demostrable $\endgroup$
    – Pablo
    Aug 14, 2020 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Pablo Certain things are not demonstrable even in mathematics, the postulates, and in science "demonstrable" means confirmable by observations and experiments. Similarly, theology took the Scripture and elaborations on it by holy fathers as "postulates", and added some surmises from general observations of "nature" to "demonstrate" its conclusions. Whatever we may think of the process today it was scientia to medieval scholastics. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Aug 14, 2020 at 20:44

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