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Reading Nature’s Book

Galileo and the Birth of Modern Philosophy

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Fred Ablondi

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) is widely recognized as one of the greatest scientific thinkers in history. Intriguingly, when offered a place in the Medici court in 1610, he requested the title of «Philosopher and Chief Mathematician.» Reading Nature’s Book: Galileo and the Birth of Modern Philosophy is the first book-length study written with undergraduates in mind that examines the philosophical implications (both theoretical and historical) of Galileo’s scientific discoveries, including many matters that were later taken up by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers. This close analysis of Galileo’s philosophical insights demonstrates the prominent place his thought should have in the history of early modern philosophy.
Reading Nature’s Book provides contextual material for college and university students enrolled in modern philosophy courses, introducing them to ideas and concepts that dominated philosophical discussion during the era. Furthermore, students and scholars interested in the history of philosophy of science will also benefit from a decidedly philosophical approach to such a leading scientific figure. Many of the topics explored by Galileo continue to be of philosophical interest today, including scientific methodology and the relation between science and religion.
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Introduction: Galileo and Philosophy

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Galileo was a powerful, passionate figure, a man who dominated every room and every discussion he entered. His excitement over the new world he saw opening up, and his blistering intolerance of those who would not see it as he did, break through in every page of his writings. These are infectious qualities, especially when joined with the gaiety and enormous vitality of a man who treasured every moment of his life.

—ERNAN MCMULLIN 1967, P. 3

Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) is widely recognized as one of the greatest scientific thinkers in human history. While he began his academic career as a mathematician, he went on to make seminal contributions to physics, and revolutionized astronomy and cosmology. Fittingly, a great deal has been written about his work in these fields. There has also been much scholarly attention given to Galileo the historical figure, and in particular to his struggles with and ultimate punishment by the Catholic Church. This book attempts to do something different: it is an investigation of the philosophical implications (both theoretical and historical) of his scientific discoveries. Of course, in Galileo’s day—and for the rest of the seventeenth century—there was not the clear distinction between philosophy and science that we have today. Galileo, like Descartes and Newton after him, would not have thought himself to be doing science as opposed to philosophy (indeed, the word ‘scientist’ was not coined until the nineteenth century). Many of his (and Descartes’ and...

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