Skeptical and Natural Philosophy

The Scientific Revolution

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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