Monday, July 22, 2019

Galileo Versus Aristotle

In my post, “On The Anti-Aristotelianism of the Renaissance,” I talk about the anti-Aristotelianism of Erasmus, Martin Luther, and Francis Bacon. The anti-Aristotelianism that was sweeping Europe, in the time of the Renaissance, touched a new high with the publication in 1632 of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which is written in the form of a Platonic dialogue for debating 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 is clear from the name that he has given to the Aristotelian scholar—“Simplicio” means simpleton. 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 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 influential during the Renaissance; its first edition was sold out immediately after publication, but the religious establishment was outraged by the disrespect shown to Aristotelian cosmology. 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 defaming the religious order.

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