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Monday, July 22, 2019

Galileo Versus Aristotle

  Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636
In my recent post, “On The Anti-Aristotelianism of the Renaissance,” I talk about the anti-Aristotelianism of Erasmus, Martin Luther, and Francis Bacon. But the anti-Aristotelianism that was sweeping Europe in the time of the Renaissance reached its zenith with the publication of Galileo Galilei’s famous work the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632. The book is written in the form of a Platonic dialogue and the purpose of the dialogue is to debate the fundamental scientific principles which govern the universe.

The conversationists in Galileo’s Dialogue include a scholar of Copernicus, a man called Salviati, who makes a presentation of Galileo’s own scientific views, calling him a respected academician, and an Aristotelian scholar called Simplicio who presents the arguments for the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic view of the universe. Galileo’s contempt for Aristotle becomes clear from the name that he has given to the Aristotelian scholar—“Simplicio” means simpleton. Galileo thought that the Aristotelians were a bunch of simpletons or fools.

The Dialogue of more than 600 pages is a direct confrontation between Galileo and Aristotle—the arguments that Simplicio presents are demolished one by one by Salviati who presents a series of evidence in the form of scientific graphs, mathematical equations, and information derived from the direct observations through the telescope. They discuss the movement of heavenly bodies; the craters and mountains on the moon; the phases of Venus; the relation between ocean tides and motion of the earth; and much else. In the end, Galileo (through Salviati) manages to establish that while Copernicus was right on most things, Aristotle (and Ptolemy) had an erroneous view of the universe.

The book became very influential during the Renaissance; its first edition was sold out immediately after publication. But it alienated Galileo from the religious establishment of his time. The Dialogue was placed in the list of forbidden books and on October 1, 1632, Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition to face prosecution for trying to defame the religious order.

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