History 351: Seventeenth Century Europe 2011

Objections to Copernicus: (1) why no stellar parallax? (2) if the earth is moving, why don’t things fall at an angle?

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Objections to Copernicus: (1) why no stellar parallax? (2) if the earth is moving, why don’t things fall at an angle?


  • More objections: Psalms 93:1 says the earth cannot be moved; Joshua told the sun to stand still.

  • Copernicus published reluctantly, at the end of his life; he asserted his theory as hypothesis, not dogmatic truth.

  • Increasing intellectual/ religious intolerance by both Catholics and Protestants in later 1500s;

  • Luther and Calvin reject Copernicus’s views, as did most astronomers.

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)

  • Tycho Brahe: Danish astronomer; worked for King of Denmark and then Emperor Rudolf II.

  • A duel (1566) and a (partially) metal nose.

  • Brahe’s theory: sun and moon go round earth; planets go round sun.

  • 1572: a supernova in Cassiopeia; Brahe concludes that things change in the superlunary sphere.

  • Careful, detailed observations. Employed Kepler.

Tycho Brahe

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

  • German astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician; defended Copernicanism.

  • Taught at Graz; expelled (as a Lutheran) 1600; invited by Brahe to Prague; succeeded him as Imperial mathematician 1601; later worked for Wallenstein.

  • 1605 argued that planets move in elliptical orbits (published 1609).

  • Epitome of Copernican Astronomy 1617-21; three laws of planetary motion; a planet’s speed varies with its distance from the sun.

Johannes Kepler

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

  • Galileo born in Pisa; father a musician; educated in a monastery and thought of becoming a monk or priest; instead went to University of Pisa to study medicine, but left without a degree.

  • Studied mathematics and physics.

  • 1588: published a book on the center of gravity in solids; it gained him patronage of Marquis Guidobaldo del Monte and his brother, a Cardinal.



  • 1589: the del Monte brothers secured him appointment as professor of mathematics at Pisa University.

  • 1591: he quarreled with an illegitimate son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany (over the son’s ideas for a machine to drain marshes), and left Pisa.

  • 1592: the del Monte brother find him a post at Padua University.


  • 1594: at Padua Galileo adopts Copernicanism

  • 1600: Marina Gamba moved into his house and has three children; two daughters (who are sent to a nunnery) and a son (who is eventually legitimated).

  • 1608: Hans Lippershey makes a telescope.

  • 1609: Galileo makes a better one; he shows that the moon is not smooth.

  • 1610: he discovers 4 moons of Jupiter, rotating around the planet; not everything rotates round the earth.

Modern picture of Galileo with his refracting telescope


  • 1610: published Sidereus Nuncius; becomes famous; goes to Florence as mathematician to Grand Duke Cosimo II; also gets professorship at Pisa.

  • Discovers sunspots, and the phases of Venus – suggesting Venus goes round sun (compatible with theories of both Copernicus and Brahe).

  • 1613: Letters on Sunspots supports Copernicanism

Galileo and the bible

  • 1613: dinner with Cosimo; question raised of compatibility of bible with Copernicanism.

  • 1613: manuscript “Letter to Castelli”

  • 1615: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (printed 1636)

  • These two letters argued that church should abandon cosmology of Aristotle/ Ptolemy, and interpret biblical passages which conflict with Copernicanism as metaphorical.

Galileo and the clergy

  • Some clergy attacked Galileo in sermons, denying that he had the right to interpret the bible.

  • 1615: the letter to Castelli was reported to the Inquisition in Rome.

  • Galileo himself wanted to involve Rome and especially Robert Bellarmine, hoping the church would endorse his ideas.

Bellarmine (1542-1621), by Bernini, 1622

Galileo and Bellarmine

  • Bellarmine unconvinced; noted that not only bible but Fathers and other Catholic writers rejected Copernicanism.

  • Bellarmine argued that Catholic tradition should not be abandoned unless there was absolute proof it was mistaken; anything else played into the hands of heretics.

  • Bellarmine thought Copernicanism could be used as a hypothesis, but not taught as true.

Galileo and the church

  • Bellarmine unconvinced by telescopic observations (bad eyesight).

  • Galileo thought planetary motion was circular; that comets were caused by refraction of sun’s rays in atmosphere; that tides result from earth’s motion (not moon).

  • Many of Galileo’s observations compatible with Brahe’s system, taught by Jesuits at Rome.

Galileo and the Jesuits

  • 1616: Copernicus’s book put on Index (until corrected); Galileo told not to teach Copernicanism as true.

  • 1619: Galileo quarrels with Jesuit Orazio Grassi over comets; Jesuits increasingly hostile to him.

  • 1623: The Assayer (Il Saggiatore)

  • The book was examined by the Inquisition but cleared in 1625.

Galileo: The Assayer and the mechanical philosophy

  • The Assayer important less for what it said on comets than for:

  • (1) arguing that secondary qualities – color, taste, etc. – are not in things but in our perception of them; (2) there are no substantial forms (e.g. of a table, donkey, etc.); (3) there are no final causes / teleologies; (4) stress on mathematics as central to science; (5) physical universe is matter in motion behaving according to laws.

Galileo’s Dialogue on the Great World Systems (1632)

  • By 1630 Galileo had finished his Dialogue on the Great World Systems.

  • He took it to Rome to get it licensed.

  • He had been on friendly terms with the man who in 1623 had become Pope Urban VIII.

  • Perhaps in part because of this, the papal licenser gave permission for the book to be published; it was in 1632 at Florence.

The Trial of Galileo, 1633

  • The Dialogue discussed Copernicanism, and seemingly portrayed it as clearly correct.

  • Galileo said it didn’t teach Copernicanism, but only presented the evidence so the reader could decide.

  • Pope Urban thought his own views were being mocked in the book.

  • Galileo was called to Rome, questioned by the Inquisition, threatened with torture, and told he was suspected of heresy.

Galileo: Trial and aftermath

  • Galileo agreed to give up Copernicanism

  • “Eppur si mouve”

  • He was sentenced to imprisonment but allowed to live in house arrest in the countryside near Florence.

  • Died 1642.

  • Galileo’s condemnation chills science in Catholic countries; Descartes withdraws a pro-Copernican book from the press.


  • Catholic ban on teaching Copernicanism lifted 1758; Copernicus’s writings removed from Index 1835; Galileo’s condemnation reversed 1979.

  • Galileo: work in mechanics: falling bodies move at speed proportional to time they’ve fallen, regardless of weight density; but story of leaning tower of Pisa experiment apocryphal (Simon Stevin did a similar experiment in Holland earlier).

  • Projectiles move in parabolas.

  • Analyzed complex motions as combinations of simple ones, described mathematically.

Other Scientific Advances

  • Barometer: Evangelista Torricelli 1643 (pupil of Galileo and Castelli).

  • Airpump: Otto von Guericke 1650.

  • William Gilbert De Magnete 1600: distinguished magnetism from electricity (invented latter word); earth a magnet.

  • William Harvey: circulation of blood in animals 1628.

Airpump of Robert Boyle

More Advances in Science

  • Compound microscope: Zacharias Janssen 1595; Galileo 1610.

  • Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723): bacteria; protozoa; sperm; red blood cells.

  • Robert Boyle (1627-91): father of chemistry; Boyle’s Law (pressure of gas inversely proportional to volume).

  • John Napier: logarithms 1614. Descartes: co-ordinate geometry. Leibniz: calculus.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

  • Professor of mathematics at Cambridge 1669-1701.

  • Gravity; laws of motion; mathematical foundations for observations of Galileo etc.

  • Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (1687): every body in the universe attracts every other body with a force proportional to their mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.



  • Demonstrated how his laws explain motion of tides, moon, comets, planets, and their satellites.

  • Opticks 1704.

  • The Newtonian reflector. Calculus.

  • Member of Parliament 1689-90; 1701-2.

  • Master of the Mint from 1696 (responsible for re-coinage 1696-7).

  • Socinian; anti-Trinitarian; interested in biblical prophecies.

  • President of the Royal Society from 1703.

Scientific Organization(s)

  • Accademia dei Lincei founded 1603; Galileo a member 1611.

  • Samuel Hartlib (c. 1600-62; German/ Polish/ English) and his circle. Bacon.

  • Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) and his circle.

  • The Royal Society 1662.

  • The French Academy of Sciences 1666.

  • Journals: Journal des savants (1665); Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society (1665); Acta eruditorum (Leipzig 1682; Leibniz one of main contributors).

Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society; he became Bishop of Rochester in 1684

Intellectual Revolution

  • British empiricism; Continental rationalism.

  • Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626; Baron Verulam and Viscount St Albans); son of Lord Chancellor; trained for law and administration; knighted 1603; Attorney General 1613; Lord Chancellor 1618; impeached in 1621 (over monopolies).

  • Works: Essays (1597; revised and expanded to 1625).

Bacon: Writings

  • Works: projected Instauratio Magna, surveying the whole of science; completed only:

  • The Advancement of Learning 1605 (revised Latin version De augmentis scientiarum 1623), and

  • Novum Organum (in Latin; 1620).

  • He also wrote many works on law, history, religion, etc.

Sir Francis Bacon

Bacon: Empiricism and induction

  • The ancient and scholastics were ignorant of a great deal about nature and science.

  • By observation and experiment, we can find vast amounts of new truths about nature, which can be used vastly to improve human life.

  • The state should help co-ordinate scientific efforts.

  • The church and religion should be kept out of science.

Bacon: Empiricism and induction

  • Religion is a matter of faith/ belief, not knowledge; fideism.

  • Scholastics/ Aristotelians argued by syllogisms, using deduction to draw conclusions from self-evident first principles.

  • Bacon argued that deduction produces no new knowledge; the proper scientific method is induction of general laws from observation and experiment; rejected teleology.

  • He de-emphasized mathematics, rejected Copernicanism, and was unaware of Gilbert and Harvey.

René Descartes and Cartesianism

  • René Descartes (1596-1650)

  • Often seen as the founder of modern philosophy.

  • Did important work in mathematics (pioneered co-ordinate geometry), optics, and other areas of science.

  • From a French minor noble family; educated by Jesuits and then at the University of Poitiers.


René Descartes

  • Descartes: biography:

  • 1617: went to the Netherlands and joined the army of Maurice of Nassau.

  • 1619: joined the army of Maximilian of Bavaria (was at the battle of the White Mountain in 1620).

  • 1619: while stationed in Germany, he had dreams/ visions that persuaded him to follow a career in philosophy, and gave him the cantral ideas of his later thinking.


  • 1622: moved back to France;

  • 1623: sold the property he inherited and from then on lived off investment income.

  • 1628-49: in the Dutch Republic.

  • 1633: he abandons plan to publish his treatise Du Monde when Galileo is condemned.

  • 1635: had a daughter (Francine) with a domestic servant (Helena Jans van der Strom); Francine died in 1640.

  • 1649: went to Sweden at invitation of Queen Christina.


  • Main works: 1637 Discours de la méthode de bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences (Discourse on the method of conducting your reason, and seeking truth in the sciences).

  • 1641: Meditationes de prima philosophia.

  • 1644: Principia philosophiae.

  • 1649: Les passions de l’âme (The passions of the soul).

Descartes' teachings: Cartesianism

  • All physical things act according to the same laws; for example, the laws of optics are dependent on the laws of mechanics, since light is reducible to small particles.

  • Physical phenomena can be explained in terms of (combinations of) clear and simple laws; these laws involve no occult powers (in contrast to Aristotelianism, and also to Newtonianism, which centers on gravity).

  • Some Newtonians thought their views more easily compatible (than Cartesianism) with orthodox ideas about God.


  • The mechanical philosophy.

  • Secondary qualities in our perception, not in objects (which consist only of shape, size, weight, and motion).

  • The universe is not what it seems, but what scientists measure it as being.

  • The universe is a physical continuum, with different parts in different motions.

  • God (like a clockmaker) started it. He also sustains it.


  • Skepticism; Cartesian doubt; cogito ergo sum (the “cogito”); the hypothesis of the evil demon.

  • Clear and distinct ideas are true; God’s existence can be proved (design; first mover, etc.); God would not permit an evil demon to deceive us.

  • The external world, as measured and described by scientists, does exist.


  • Cartesian dualism: the thinking “I” is not reducible to matter; minds and souls are immaterial

  • Minds have free will; bodies behave according to deterministic laws.

  • How are minds and bodies connected?: the pineal gland; occasionalism; Arnold Guelincx (1624-69).

  • Reasoning ability more important than observation in science.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

  • Plan for a three volume work on the whole of philosophy: De Corpore (1655); De Homine (1658); De Cive (1642; 1647).

  • Mathematics; squaring the circle. Geometry.

  • Materialism; determinism (so why write Leviathan etc?). Nominalism. Anti-clericalism. Biblical criticism.

  • What are souls, spirits, God? (First cause; gas).

  • To say that God spoke to you in a dream is to say you dreamed God spoke to you; revelation unreliable.

Baruch/ Benedict de Spinoza (1632-77)

  • Spinoza was born into the Jewish community in Amsterdam, but excommunicated from it in 1656.

  • He made his living by grinding lenses, and this may have caused the lung disease from which he died.

  • Works: Principia philosophiae cartesianae 1663.



  • Works: Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 1670. Tractatus Politicus 1677 (incomplete); Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata (1677).

  • Descartes argued that material universe was one continuous entity, with no vacuums separating different parts; but that there were many minds.

  • Spinoza claimed that the universe was a single thinking and material substance, which was at once God and nature.


  • All is determined; people lack free will, but can attain a kind of freedom by controlling emotions, and using reason to escape from irrational fears.

  • The bible is full of contradictions and errors, and much of it should not be taken literally.

  • Spinoza’s ideas were commonly seen as strange and atheistical.


  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1643-1716)

  • Son of a Lutheran professor of moral philosophy at Leipzig; diplomat and advisor to Catholic Archbishop of Mainz 1666-73; advisor, librarian and historian to the Duke of Brunswick (Elector of Hanover from 1692).

  • Achievements: calculus; many published and manuscript works on law, politics, mathematics, and science; monads; optimism.

  • Main works: Theodicy (1710); Monadology (1714)



  • John Locke (1632-1704).

  • Oxford academic; physician and secretary to the Earl of Shaftesbury; fellow of the royal society 1668; Whig; economic thinker; colonial interests.

  • Essay concerning Humane Understanding 1690; empiricism; no innate ideas; under-labourer theory of philosophy.


Deism, skepticism, and anticlericalism

  • Decline of clergy’s power, and hold on education; Gallicanism; in France lay courts take control of marriage law.

  • Deism: idea of God as a clockmaker who created the universe but now leaves it to run on its own; decline of ideas of Providence and Hell.

  • Biblical criticism: Hobbes, Spinoza; Pentateuch; Richard Simon (Catholic priest; author of Histoire critique du vieux testament; suppressed in France in 1670s; published in Holland 1685.

  • Pierre Bayle (1647-1706): tolerant skepticism.

  • Idea of a society of virtuous atheists: Bayle and Jansenists.

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