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Galilean world view


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Galileo Galilei (1564—1642) Italian astronomer and physicist

René Descartes (1596—1650) French philosopher, mathematician

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The early 17th century saw a change in the European attitude to nature that replaced the Aristotelian conception of nature with the one that, in essence, remains to the present. The name of Galileo provides a convenient label for the new world view, although virtual contemporaries such as Descartes are equally implicated. Essential changes include: (i) the mathematization or geometrization of physics. Galileo wrote that ‘Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures’…; (ii) replacement of the Aristotelian conception of nature as an organism, like a plant, animated by a nisus or force driving it towards a natural goal. In place of this the new image is mechanical: nature becomes a clock or machine; (iii) the replacement of piecemeal Aristotelian explanations with general theories; (iv) the replacement of an Aristotelian confidence in the senses by a view of the world as possibly very different from the way we perceive it as being (see colour, primary/secondary qualities); and (v) a corresponding emphasis on the primary authority of experimental observation, conducted with entirely new standards of accuracy.

(i) the mathematization or geometrization of physics. Galileo wrote that ‘Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures’…; (ii) replacement of the Aristotelian conception of nature as an organism, like a plant, animated by a nisus or force driving it towards a natural goal. In place of this the new image is mechanical: nature becomes a clock or machine; (iii) the replacement of piecemeal Aristotelian explanations with general theories; (iv) the replacement of an Aristotelian confidence in the senses by a view of the world as possibly very different from the way we perceive it as being (see colour, primary/secondary qualities); and (v) a corresponding emphasis on the primary authority of experimental observation, conducted with entirely new standards of accuracy.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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