A Historical-Analytical Framework for the Controversies over Galileo’s Conception of Motion

  • H. Floris Cohen
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 239)


Chapter Five of E.J. Dijksterhuis’ never translated masterpiece Vol en worp of 1924 deals over some 100 pages with the very subject to which the present book is in large part devoted — controversies in the 1630s and 1640s over Galileo’s new conception of motion as expressed most cogently in his treatment of falling bodies and projectile motion. Thus the views of, and debates between, Torricelli, Riccioli, the Accademia del Cimento, Descartes, Gassendi, Le Cazre, Wendelin, Mersenne, Fermat make their successive appearances in that chapter, where Dijksterhuis also deals with two thinkers on motion who were contemporaries of Galileo — Baliani and Beeckman.


Mathematical Science Scientific Revolution Natural Philosopher Mathematical Realism Radical Twist 
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  1. 1.
    Dijksterhuis, Val en worp, p. 348. I discuss this book at greater length in Cohen, The Scientific Revolution, section 2.3.2.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Descartes to Mersenne, 12 September 1638: “Car il est impossible de rien dire de bon & solide touchant la vitesse, sans avoir expliqué au vray ce que c’est que la pesanteur, & ensemble tout le systeme du monde;’ Descartes, Oeuvres [Adam e.a.], II, p. 355; and 11 October 1638: “Mais il me semble qu’il [Galilée] manque beaucoup en ce qu’il fait continuellement des digressions & ne s’areste point a expliquer tout a fait une matiere; ce qui monstre qu’il ne les a point examinées par ordre, & que, sans avoir consideré les premieres causes de la nature, il a seulement cherché les raisons de quelques effets particuliers, & ainsy qu’il a basti sans fondement;’ Descartes, Oeuvres [Adam e.a.], II, p. 380.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Dijksterhuis, Val en worp, p. 343.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 352. Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Westfall, Force; The Construction. For a discussion of Westfall’s account, see also Cohen, The Scientific Revolution, section 2.4.5. Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    What follows, derives entirely from my book-in-progress, provisionally entitled “How Modern Science Came Into the World;’ with many an issue which here I dispose of in a few sentences (if at all) I take up there at section- or even chapter-length. I also list there the scholarly resources drawn upon in every successive chapter.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dijksterhuis recommended the non-use of “mechanical;’ going on to list six distinct meanings as well as better expressions for them, at the end of his 1952 article “De mechanisering.”Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Ptolemy, Almagest [Toomer], p. 36.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Koyré, “Du monde: See also Cohen, The Scientific Revolution, section 2.3.3.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    This passage implies that I reject past efforts to portray Galileo as a Platonist or as an Aristotelian, or even as a wholesale atomist in the current, natural-philosophical sense — one encounters bits and pieces in one vein or another, but no effort at a coherently comprehensive world-view in the `Athenian’ mode I have outlined a few pages back. Galileo’s urge to be seen as a philosopher denotes quite something else. As Biagioli has persuasively argued in his Galileo, Courtier, with abstract mathematical science now beginning to be linked up with reality, the social role of philosopher was the only one available for him to get a hearing (which Galileo needed even more in view of his decision to use heliocentrism-in-realist-fashion as the principal platform for his realist mathematical science).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See the final page of the final chapter (In Praise of Realism’) of Lauxtermann, Schopenhauer’s Broken World-View. Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    It is essential for my argument not to read these productive interactions of the second half of the 17th century between newly realist, mathematical science and newly kinetic corpuscularianism back into their clashes of the first half.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    By the end of the 17th century the chasm between the Galilean approach of mathematical modeling and the `mixed mathematics’ approach of cautious quantification applied by Jesuit experts to empirically probed aspects of common-sense reality was still very much there in ongoing disputes over fluvial engineering in the Po delta (analyzed in much detail in Maffioli, Out of Galileo). Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

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  • H. Floris Cohen

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