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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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Chapter Seven: Showdown

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← 62 | 63 →CHAPTER SEVEN

In his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems Galileo had two aims: first, to arouse general interest in the problem of Copernicanism among cultured persons, even though they were not versed in astronomy, and to persuade them of the foolishness of the old Peripatetic science; and second, to educate the highest Vatican authorities to the dangers that the Catholic Church would encounter if it insisted arbitrarily in maintaining its attitude of 1616.

—LUDOVICO GEYMONAT 1965, P. 136

Hindsight can also easily mislead us when it comes to understanding Galileo’s condemnation by the Church. It is easy to portray this as an inevitable clash between two sides committed from the outset to opposing principles. But the clash was far from inevitable…The clash, when it came, was not between an impersonal institution, the universal Church, on the one hand and a dedicated scientist on the other. Rather it was a falling out between friends, a betrayal, a just punishment. Galileo was indeed a heretic; but worse (for heresy was much more common than historians have realised), he was disloyal and ungrateful.

—DAVID WOOTTON 2010, P. 266

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