Galileo Galilei and the Doctores Parisienses

  • William A. Wallace
Part of the The University of Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 14)


The title of this study translates that of a note published by Antonio Favaro in 1918 in the transactions of the Accademia dei Lincei, wherein he presented his considered opinion of the value of Pierre Duhem’s researches into the ‘Parisian precursors of Galileo.’1 Earlier, in 1916, only a few years after the appearance of Duhem’s three-volume Études sur Léonard de Vinci, Favaro had reviewed the work in Scientia and had expressed some reservations about the thesis there advanced, which advocated a strong bond of continuity between medieval and modern science.2 In the 1918 note he returned to this topic and developed a number of arguments against the continuity thesis, some of which are strikingly similar to those offered in present-day debates. Since Favaro, as the editor of the National Edition of Galileo’s works, had a superlative knowledge of Galileo’s manuscripts — one that remains unequalled in extent and in detail to the present day — it will be profitable to review his arguments and evaluate them in the light of recent researches into the manuscript sources of Galileo’s early notebooks. Such is the intent of this essay.


Local Motion Latin Text Prima Facie Evidence Parallel Column Continuity Thesis 
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  1. 1.
    Galileo Galilei e i Doctores Parisienses’, Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei 27(1918), 3–14.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Léonard da Vinci a-t-il exercé une influence sur Galilée et son école?’ Scientia 20 (1916), 257–265.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The manuscript referred to here is contained in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Forence with the signature Manoscritti Galileiani 46 (= BNF/MS Gal 46). Its transcription is contained in Antonio Favaro (ed.), Le Opere di Galileo Galilei, 20 vols. in 21, G. Barbera Editore, Florence, 1890–1909, reprinted 1968, Vol. 1, pp. 15–177 (hereafter abbreviated as Opere 1:15–177). All manuscript material in this essay is reproduced with the kind permission of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, Italy. This permission is here gratefully acknowledged.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
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  5. 5.
    “...che lo sviluppo scientifico e soggetto alla legge di continuità; che le grandi scoperte sono quasi sempre il frutto d’una preparazione lenta e complicatà, proseguita attraverso i secoli; che in fine le dottrine, le quali i più insigni pensatori giunsero a professare, risultano da una moltitudine di sforzi accumulati da una folla di oscuri lavoratori.” — ‘Galileo Galilei e i Doctores Parisienses,’ p. 4 (translation here and hereafter by the writer).Google Scholar
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    “Senza dubbio alcuno, dunque, ciò scriveva Galileo durante Tanno 1584.” — Avvertimento, Opere 1:12.Google Scholar
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    Thus, in Opere 1, at p. 122, line 10 (hereafter abbreviated as 122.10), Galileo makes the reference to “[ea] quae dicta sunt a nobis 6° Physicorum...,” an indication of a commentary on the eight books of the Physics, and at 137.14 he speaks of difficulties that will be solved “cum agam de elementis in particulari,” a common way of designating the subject matter of the Meteorology, of which he apparently planned to treat. There is also an implicit reference to notes on logic that probably preceded the notes on natural philosophy; this occurs at 18.17, where Galileo writes “... de singularibus non potest esse scientia, ut alibi ostendimus,” a possible indication of his having already explained this thesis from the Posterior Analytics. Other references to matter treated elsewhere occur at 77.18, 77.24, 113.13, 125.25–32, 127.30, 128.8, 129.24, 138.9, and 150.24–25.Google Scholar
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    All of these references to Aquinas and the Thomists have been analyzed by the writer in W. A. Wallace, ‘Galileo and the Thomists’, St. Thomas Aquinas Commemorative Studies 1274–1974 (ed. by A. Maurer), Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, 1974, Vol. 2, pp. 293–330. At the time he wrote that article the writer accepted uncritically Favaro’s judgment that the notes contained in MS Gal 46 were Juvenilia; now, as will become clear in what follows, he seriously questions such a characterization of the notes.Google Scholar
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    Galileo himself alludes to this fact in his third letter on sunspots to Mark Weiser, dated December 1, 1612; see Opere 5:190.2–7.Google Scholar
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    Galileo could have used the 1570 edition for portions of his work, but he incorporates material not found in that edition, and for this he must have used (directly or indirectly) either the 1581 or the 1585 edition, both of which were printed from the same type. For a complete listing of Clavius’s writings, see Carlos Sommervogel, S.J., Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, Vol. II (Alphonse Picard, Paris, 1891) cols. 1212–1224; see also note 33 infra. Google Scholar
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    For the Latin text, see Opere 1:24.25–27. The reference to Pererius is apparently to his widely available De communibus omnium rerum naturalium principiis et affectionibus libri quindecim, printed at Rome in 1576 and often thereafter. It should be noted, however, that Sommervogel (Vol. VI, col. 499) lists an earlier work printed at Rome in 1562 with the title Physicorum, sive de principiis rerum naturalium libri XV; this is much rarer, and I have not yet been able to locate a copy. There are also manuscript versions of Pererius’s lectures on the Physics, as noted infra, p. 107.Google Scholar
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    Galileo’s reply is on fol. 14v; Pererius’s corresponding discussion is on p. 505 of the 1576 edition.Google Scholar
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    In his researches the writer has uncovered only one book that does give Galileo’s figure. This is Ignatius Hyacinthus Amat de Graveson, O.P., Tractatus de vita, mysteriis, et annis Jesu Christi..., Venetiis: Apud Joannem Baptistam Recurti, 1727, pp. 251–252: “Christus Dominus anno aerae vulgaris vigesimo sexto, imperii proconsularis Tiberii decimo sexto, anno urbis Romae conditae 779, anno a creatione mundi 4164...” The date of publication of this work obviously would rule it out as a source; but see note 50 infra. Google Scholar
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  32. 46a.
    Benedictus Pererius Prior tomus commentariorum et disputationum in Genesim... Romae: Apud Georgium Ferrarium, 1589.Google Scholar
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  38. 57.
    Opere 10:44–45. This letter and its contents are discussed by Crombie in his paper cited in note 14 supra, pp. 167–68.Google Scholar
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    Favaro speculates that Galileo might have had a hand in Guiducci’s Letter, cited in note 56 supra; see Opere 6:6. For other collaboration between Galileo and Guiducci, see William R. Shea, Galileo’s Intellectual Revolution. Middle Period, 1610–1632, Science History Publications, New York, 1972, pp. 75–76.Google Scholar
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    See Schmitt, ‘The Faculty of Arts...,’ pp. 261–262.Google Scholar
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    Christophorus Clavius, Euclidis Elementorum Libri XV..., Romae: Apud Vincentium Accoltum, 1574; nunc iterum editi ac multarum rerum accessione locupletati, Romae: Apud Bartholomaeum Grassium, 1589. Galileo’s own interpretation of Euclid, however, would still derive from Tartaglia’s Italian translation, with which he was quite familiar, and which, as Stillman Drake has repeatedly argued, underlies his distinctive geometrical approach to the science of motion.Google Scholar
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    There are other flaws in Duhem’s historical arguments, of course, and these have been well detailed by Annaliese Maier in her studies on the natural philosophy of the late scholastics. Other scholars have contributed substantial information, since Duhem’s time, that support various aspects of his continuity thesis; among these should be mentioned Ernest A. Moody and Marshall Clagett and their disciples. In what follows, to the researches of these authors will be added a brief survey of sixteenth-century work that complements their findings but leads to slightly different philosophical conclusions than have heretofore been argued.Google Scholar
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    In this letter, dated April 12, 1615, Bellarmine commended Foscarini and Galileo for being prudent in contenting themselves to speak hypothetically and not absolutely when presenting the Copernican system, thus considering it merely as a mathematical hypothesis (Opere 12:171–172). Galileo, of course, quickly disavowed that such was his intent (Opere 5:349–370, especially p. 360).Google Scholar
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    Thus some of the claims made by Heiko A. Oberman, ‘Reformation and Revolution: Copernicus’s Discovery in an Era of Change’, in The Cultural Context... (note 90), pp. 397–435Google Scholar
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    E. A. Moody in his Studies in Medieval Philosophy, Science and Logic, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975, pp. 287–304 and passim, with regard to the role of nominalism in the Scientific Revolution, would seem to require revision in light of the findings reported in this paper.Google Scholar
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    See John E. Murdoch, ‘The Development of a Critical Temper: New Approaches and Modes of Analysis in Fourteenth-Century Philosophy, Science, and Theology,’ being readied for publication; also his ‘From Social into Intellectual Factors: An Aspect of the Unitary Character of Late Medieval Learning,’ in The Cultural Context... (note 90), pp. 271–384, and ‘Philosophy and the Enterprise of Science in the Later Middle Ages,’ in The Interaction Between Science and Philosophy (ed. by Y. Elkana), Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1974, pp. 51–74.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • William A. Wallace
    • 1
  1. 1.The Catholic University of AmericaWashington, D. C.USA

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