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Hermes and the Telescope

In the Crucible of Galileo's Life-World


Paolo Palmieri

This book explores the life of Galileo Galilei through a philosophical and scientific lens, utilizing an innovative hermeneutic perspective that places his work in the wider context of early modern hermeticism, religious heresy, and libertinism.

As the first comprehensive study of Galileo’s life and work from a phenomenological and existentialist viewpoint, Paolo Palmieri calls into question the positivist myth of Galileo, the founder of modern science, and interrogates the positivist historiography that has shaped the myth since the historic publication of the monumental edition of Galileo’s works at the turn of the twentieth century. The book highlights the entanglement of Galileo’s natural philosophy with his private unorthodox convictions about Christian theology, Biblical hermeneutic, sexuality, and the hidden traditions of Italian heretics and libertines. The text demonstrates the philosophical, pedagogical, and political implications of this new reading of one of the founding fathers of modernity for both the sciences and the humanities.

Addressing hotly debated questions of ethnicity, racism, subjectivity, the self, and pedagogy, this study will be of particular interest to scholars who teach both undergraduate and graduate courses in history of science, philosophy of science, phenomenology and existential philosophy, cultural studies, Italian studies, humanism, and the European Renaissance.

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Chapter 4. Sol


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David Wootton’s discussion of Galileo’s religious beliefs, or unbelief, as he argues, has drawn attention to important documents that help us reconstruct Galileo’s hermetic being-in-the-world.1 Particularly relevant to my project is ← 121 | 122 → the testimony by Balthasar de Monconys, a Frenchmen who visited Florence in 1646. He reports the gist of a conversation with Galileo’s disciple, Vincenzo Viviani. “Il me dit son opinion [Viviani’s or Galileo’s ?] du soleil qu’il croyoit une estoille fixe, la necessité de toutes choses, la nullité du mal, la participation de l’ame universelle, la conservation de toutes choses”.2 I agree with Wootton that although the grammatical ambiguity of the pronoun ‘son’ does not allow us to decide whether the opinions were Galileo’s or Viviani’s, contextual evidence, based on Viviani’s close relationship with Galileo and on Viviani’s personal religious convictions, suggests that it is quite possible that Monconys’s passage relates Galileo’s opinions, or that the opinions were shared by both Galileo and Viviani.3 Monconys’s journal shows that he was keen on meeting the Galilean younger pupils, and on collecting scientific information, books, especially Galileo’s, and practical know-how about lenses suitable for telescopes and microscopes. The journal is also important for another reason. It makes the reader feel like she is touring Florence and Pisa at a time when the real action was over, and what she is left with is melancholic sightseeing, paying homage the glories of the Medici of a better time. The picture that...

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