What Is the Difference Between Science and Natural Philosophy?


Vincent White

What Is the Difference Between Science and Natural Philosophy?

Science and natural philosophy are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. While both deal with the study of the natural world, there are some fundamental differences that set them apart.

The Origins of Natural Philosophy

Natural philosophy was the precursor to modern science. It was a way of understanding the natural world through observation and reason, rather than through religious or supernatural beliefs. The ancient Greeks were some of the first people to engage in natural philosophy, with thinkers like Aristotle and Plato developing theories about the nature of reality.

During the Renaissance, natural philosophy underwent a revival as scholars sought to understand the world in new ways. Figures like Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton made significant contributions to our understanding of physics and astronomy.

The Emergence of Science

In contrast to natural philosophy, science is a more recent development. While it shares many similarities with natural philosophy, science is characterized by its emphasis on empirical evidence and experimentation.

The scientific method, which involves making observations, formulating hypotheses, conducting experiments, and analyzing data, has become an integral part of scientific inquiry. This approach has allowed scientists to make significant advances in fields ranging from biology to chemistry to physics.

The Key Differences Between Science and Natural Philosophy

While both science and natural philosophy deal with the study of nature, there are several key differences between them:

  • Empirical Evidence: Science places a greater emphasis on empirical evidence than natural philosophy does. In other words, scientific claims must be supported by observable evidence obtained through experimentation or observation.
  • The Scientific Method: Scientists use a specific methodology known as the scientific method to guide their research.

    This involves making observations, forming hypotheses, conducting experiments, and analyzing data.

  • The Role of Mathematics: Science relies heavily on mathematics as a tool for understanding natural phenomena. While natural philosophy also made use of math, it was not seen as central to the discipline.
  • Specialization: Science has become increasingly specialized over time, with researchers focusing on specific areas of study. In contrast, natural philosophy was a more general field that encompassed a wide range of topics.

The Relationship Between Science and Natural Philosophy

While science and natural philosophy are distinct fields, they are also closely related. Science can be seen as a continuation of the tradition of natural philosophy, building on the ideas and discoveries made by earlier thinkers in the field.

In addition, many modern scientists continue to draw inspiration from natural philosophy. By examining the work of figures like Galileo and Newton, scientists can gain new insights into the nature of reality and develop new theories about how the world works.


Despite their differences, science and natural philosophy share a common goal: to understand the world around us. By using reason, observation, and experimentation, we can gain new insights into the mysteries of nature and continue to make progress in our understanding of the universe.