Philosophy 167: Class 5 - Part 2 - Galileo Galilei: Publications and Polemics.

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: Lists Galileo's three most important works, and discusses the role of polemics in science.

    Opening line: "Galileo's publications. Three of the books listed up here and by any imaginable standards monuments of Western Civilization."

    Duration: 9:39 minutes.

    Segment: Class 5, Part 2.
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Galileo's publications. Three of the books listed up here and by any imaginable standards monuments of Western Civilization. Though for different reasons. Siderius, Nuncius and the Discourses concerning two new sciences are really major contributions to what we now call science. We will be reading all of the second half of two new sciences the next two weeks.
That's the part of Galileo we will pay a lot of attention to. Sidereus Nuncius, I of course had you read it, and I'll make some comments on it. The reason it's so important, I'll say it now and come back and say it again, nobody had remotely anticipated the things he reported in there.
But much more than that, you're talking about an age that was remarkably self congratulatory, and how they were coming to the end of knowledge. Scholasticism knew virtually everything there was to know. You know, their were little tidbits here and there you were going to pick up, but we really do understand the world entirely.
And in one roughly 40 page publication, everybody was shown how totally completely wrong that smugness was. It just turned the world around. It suddenly realized that all these Jesuits and the others who taught in universities telling you what to believe because it had all been worked out by then.
We're put back to square one overnight, much to shock. The other work here that's a major contribution to Western civilization but at most a minor contribution to science itself, is of course the dialogue concerning the two chief world systems which we'll talk about in a few moments. It had an enormous impact on the climate in which science was done but its contribution to the science itself is relatively minor.
It has to be one of the most widely read books ever. As we go on I'll talk about a couple of these other letters on sunspots, I'll be making a couple points with, they're quite important. The bodies that stay atop water is a rebirth of Archimedes and an extension of it following a controversy over Archimedes.
Archimedes was Galileo's great hero, he modeled his work after Archimedes. Archimedes' works that we have are actually available in Dover so you can go out and look and see what I mean by modeling on them. The assayer I'll talk about when we get to it. It goes with the discourse on comments.
So I'll come to that. I don't know much about the report on flood control on that river. That's not the river that runs through Florence. Is anybody here sufficiently familiar with Florence? Okay, there was a flash flood in the late 1960s. The river sits down below a very high cliff, and the Museum of Science sits in the top of that, going up four stories.
The water reached the middle of the second storey, and when you're standing there your reaction is, that's not physically possible. But I've seen the damage done in photographs and know the people who went in there and saved as much as they could. I know them personally. So, there were reasons to worry about flood control at the time, though I doubt there was a flood like that in Florence.
Now, the note at the bottom, I tell you IMSS Florence, Firenze is the Italian word for Florence, so it's F-I-I-T. There's a remarkable amount to be discovered there. Back when I was at Dibner and I was working with them, they were pulling in 40 million separate people a year into that website and that was ten years ago, so you can imagine what it's like now.
Many millions of dollars went into what they've done on their website and then Berlusconi decided to pull the rug, so they spent the last money they had and the person who is responsible for all of this then retired, Paula Galucci I won't mention his name tonight. I'll be mentioning it next week.
As far as literature, if you start getting interested in the trial, I'll pass these two books around. At this point there are two reliable books. They compliment one another. This book was done by paid for by the church with a request. There were two things. They gave him was living in Japan at the time.
He's Italian in birth. But now assuming he's still alive and he was living in British Columbia. He was married to a Japanese woman, that's why he was in Japan. He was given full reign of the archives, and told to do the most objective account of what happened that he could.
Now I brought my marked up second addition, there's a third addition of this book, but all of us think it's the most reliable book on the subject. Then this book, A Documented History of the Galileo Affair, by Maurice Finocchiaro, I'm sorry. Again, somebody I know, and I try never to pronounce his last name, and it was faced.
This is just all the relevant documents. And it's very helpful to look at side by side with the Fantoli book. There are god-awful lot of books written on the trial, and when we get to it, it will be clear why, but those two are outstanding, and then the last two things I'll pass around.
John Heilbron spent years I think it was because he wanted to live in Florence for years doing this biography. He lives just outside Oxford but he was always in Florence. Anytime I went to Florence, he was in Florence. And this is sheerly, I haven't read, but he's a very good friend, somebody I have the highest regard for, he's one of the best historians of science.
He's also one of two PhD students who got their PhD under Tom Coon, there were only two of them, he was one of them. He was the one who was successful at that. I'll start here. And this is a very good book by Bill Shay, and someone, an Italian I don't know, on all of the contact that Galileo had with Rome, both before, leading up to the trial, etc.
And what's especially nice about it, they're black and white, but there's some very good photographs in it. So this too is a fairly recent book. So that's books that are mentioned down here, if you wanna go on beyond this course. I'll talk a little about the trial but this is not a course about the western civilization and why that book was so important.
As I told you last time, I was required to read it as a freshman and I've grown, basically, to despise the book for a reason. It makes science sound so much easier than it actually is. And I think that's why we were asked to read it as freshman, you know, made to read it as freshman.
With the picture you get of science in there is clear your mind of all the garbage theology and philosophy, look at the world, and then things will into place. And that's just not how science works and he knew perfectly well it doesn't work that way. But, which leads me to my last comment before I turn to substance F, the notes say I have a personal problem, prejudice, let us say, with Galileo.
So let me just state it. Galileo loved disputation. He loved polemics. He loved winning arguments by rhetoric. I'd like to believe, and I'm phrasing this very carefully, I would like to believe if I stand for anything in life, it's never resort to polemics or rhetoric to try to win an argument.
To me, being a philosopher, means you don't do that, okay? Now the irony of that, two very close friends are of course extraordinary politicists, Dan Dennett and Noam Chomsky. So, you can conclude how I feel about them as you see fit. But I do cringe very, very often when they start winning arguments.
But Galileo was the extreme, and this book is the total extreme. There's one matching it that we will get to, but he just loved winning arguments and he would resort to virtually anything to win an argument. And he was just a master rhetorician in every conceivable sense. So that means he leaves a much greater impression.
And you'll see it some tonight. Much greater impression that he's got convincing cases than he often does. And that upsets me, that makes me uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable with Descartes and him, but for different reasons. I have no problem with Huygens, no problem with Kepler, and none with Newton.
But I tell you that because it's my own prejudice and you need to filter from it. An awful lot of people, including lots of close friends of mine, for them, Galileo was one of the great heroes of western civilization. He's not, for me. It doesn't mean he didn't do major work in science, I just don't want to applaud him all the time.