Historically steam engines got developed in England after the introduction of the hypothetico-deductive scientific method. Was the hypothetico-deductive method or knowledge about thermodynamics or metallurgy required for the development of commercial steam engines?

Or could the technology that's needed for commercial steam engines also have been developed without scientists moving to the hypothetico-deductive method?

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with Alexandre Eremenko's point 2. The question arguably makes a category-mistake: 'hypothetico-deductive method' isn't a discovery process, it is more a philosophical category, an attempt to assess, classify or account for (assumed) common essentials of actual discovery processes. What justifies assuming that there are such common essentials anyway? What did creation of steam engines have to do with generic discovery processes? They involved many separate improvements. Discoveries and inventions occur in many ways. (Re)considering the assumptions in the question might be fruitful. $\endgroup$ – terry-s Nov 8 '17 at 0:30

This is an extended set of comments.

  1. To be sure, the first known steam engine was invented by Hero of Alexandria in 1-st century AD. It was not "commercial", of course but this has nothing to do with scientific method: just "commerce" was not developed enough at that time.

  2. Scientific method was not "introduced" in England in the modern times. It was just "articulated", explicitly stated. Scientific method was used by many people before modern era; they just did not know that this will be called "scientific method" sometimes. Some Hellenistic Greeks used scientific method in their work on physics and astronomy and medicine, there can be no doubt in it. Certainly Archimedes and Hero used it.

  3. Thermodynamics had not been invented by the time of Watt invented his engine. Usually its invention is credited to Sadi Carnot, and when he was working on it, he certainly knew about steam engines. However there is no doubt that Watt used scientific method. He was aware of physics of his time, and he certainly experimented (experiment is one of the main features of scientific method). Which does not imply, of course that Watt read Francis Bacon. But he probably knew the Boyle-Mariotte law, and whatever was known about heat and steam at that time. And all this knowledge was obtained by scientific method.

  • $\begingroup$ Having a steam engine and having a steam engine that actually useful for a commercial purpose are two different categories. The steam engine in Alexandria was a toy that wasn't useful. $\endgroup$ – Christian Nov 7 '17 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ There was no use for a steam engine in 1st century. So it had no commercial purpose. But nevertheless the principle was invented. Are we discussing invention and scientific method, or we are discussing economy, capitalism and commerce? These are two different things. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Nov 8 '17 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ The invention of new products is about more than just discovering a principle. Coming up with a new principle for a product is relatively easy. The hard part is to create useful products. This means that the product needs a certain level of efficiency and not break. Hero's device wasn't efficient enough to do anything useful. James Watt had brass available for building his steam engines at a quality that Hero didn't. $\endgroup$ – Christian Nov 8 '17 at 14:32

Humphry Davy said of James Watt: “Those who consider James Watt only as a great practical mechanic form a very erroneous idea of his character; he was equally distinguished as a natural philosopher and a chemist, and his inventions demonstrate his profound knowledge of those sciences, and that peculiar characteristic of genius, the union of them for practical application.”


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