What Is the Difference Between Natural Philosophy and Science?


Jane Flores

When we think of the word “science,” we often think of the study of the natural world and the laws that govern it. But what about “natural philosophy”? What is the difference between natural philosophy and science?

Natural Philosophy:
Natural philosophy is a term that was commonly used to describe the study of nature and the physical world before the modern era. It was a broad field that encompassed many different areas of study, including physics, astronomy, and biology. The goal of natural philosophy was to understand how the world worked and to develop theories and explanations for natural phenomena.

One notable example of a natural philosopher was Aristotle, who lived in ancient Greece. Aristotle believed that all matter was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. He also believed in a geocentric model of the universe, where Earth was at the center and all other celestial bodies orbited around it.

Science, on the other hand, is a more modern term that refers specifically to the systematic study of nature using empirical methods. Unlike natural philosophy, science relies on observation and experimentation to test theories and hypotheses. Science also has a more narrow focus than natural philosophy; it is divided into specific fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, and so on.

The scientific method is a key component of modern science. It involves making observations about the world around us, formulating hypotheses to explain those observations, testing those hypotheses through experiments or further observations, analyzing the results of those tests, and then refining or revising our understanding based on new evidence.

The Relationship Between Natural Philosophy and Science:

While natural philosophy may seem outdated by modern standards, it is important to remember that many early scientific discoveries were made by natural philosophers who were working within this framework. For example, Galileo Galilei was originally trained as a natural philosopher but is now considered one of the fathers of modern science due to his groundbreaking work in astronomy and physics.

It’s also worth noting that some aspects of natural philosophy still exist within modern science. For example, theoretical physics deals with concepts such as the nature of space and time that are still very much rooted in philosophical questions about the nature of reality.


In summary, natural philosophy and science are related but distinct fields. Natural philosophy was a broad field that sought to understand the natural world through observation and theory, while science is a more specific field that uses empirical methods to test hypotheses about the natural world. While natural philosophy may seem outdated by modern standards, many early scientific discoveries were made within this framework, and some aspects of natural philosophy still exist within modern science today.