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Did other's share the mystical aspects of Nicolaus Copernicus' system?

In the late-sixteenth century, Giodano Bruno (1548-1600), a Dominican heretic who was burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition, developed mystical copernican-ism. Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) built on Bruno's ideas for a utopia described in City of the Sun in which science was combined with astral magic for the good of mankind.

Has Nicolaus Copernicus' theory withstood the test of time?

The copernican theory that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun is still accepted as true today. Although at first Aristotelians and conservative theologians found the copernican theory outrageous, the educated papal authorities had a deep interest in science and recognized the explanatory power of the copernican theory. They tried to get Galileo, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the heliocentric theory, to temper his claims so that the copernican theory would not contradict religion.

Who was Galileo?

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian natural philosopher, physicist, and astronomer. He defended the Copernican system in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which included a series of arguments against Aristotelian astronomy. Most strikingly, he argued that the heavens and Earth had the same kind of motion and that it was not necessary to postulate a teleological—or goal-driven—system for celestial movement. That is, it was not necessary to claim, as Aristotle had done, that the movement of the heavenly bodies was caused by what they were striving for.

How did the Church react to Galileo's theories?

In an act that remains famous to this day, the Inquisition ordered Galileo (15641642) to recant his theories and placed him under house arrest during the last decade of his life. Before that time, however, Cardinal Bellarmine tried for years to persuade Galileo to accept a compromise. The Church did not object to the Copernican theory so long as it was not claimed to be a description of what was true. The cardinal told a friend of Galileo's that it would be acceptable if he claimed that the Copernican theory did no more than "save the appearances"; that is, provide a hypothesis from which astronomical observations could be logically deduced without claiming that Earth actually moved. Galileo was, in the end, forced to do exactly that, although at the outset he refused to deny the truth of the Copernican theory as a true astronomical description.

Galileo, depicted here on a 1983 Italian banknote, was another scientist who upset the Catholic Church about Earth's position in the cosmos (iStock).

Galileo, depicted here on a 1983 Italian banknote, was another scientist who upset the Catholic Church about Earth's position in the cosmos (iStock).

Did Galileo contribute more than a defense of Copernicus to science and philosophy?

Yes. Galileo (1564-1642) is credited with having founded modern mechanics by proving the laws of gravity and acceleration. He also discovered the principle of independent forces and created a theory of parabolic ballistics that accounted for the trajectory of projectiles by positing parabolic arcs for their movement. His innovations in the technology of science included an air thermoscope, a machine for raising water, and a

kind of computer for geometrical and ballistic calculations. In pure science he discovered the isochronism of the pendulum (that the oscillation period of pendulums of equal length is constant) and he invented the hydrostatic balance (an accurate device for weighing things in water and in air). With the use of telescopes, he discovered the moons of Jupiter, the existence of mountains on our Moon, and Sun spots; he also described the Milky Way in greater detail. His claim that there were "blemishes" or what we would call "sun spots" on celestial bodies was in itself heretical to some Church authorities.

Philosophically, Galileo insisted on completely naturalistic causes for the observable world, but he did not object to postulating remote or unobserved causes, according to a "retroductive inference." His method of analysis involved taking effects apart and then theoretically putting them together in a new way to fit postulated causes. Insofar as this was a form of hypothetical inference, it is surprising that Galileo was unwilling to appease the Church by calling the Copernican system merely hypothetical. Galileo further angered Church officials, while supporting scientific researchers, with his claim that biblical accounts should not be taken literally by educated people.

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