If I were Galileo…

Public Domain

Bertini Fresco of Galileo Galilei and Doge of Venice (Public Domain from Wikipedia)

Here are some more things to think about in preparation for the short-answer portion of the mid-term, which we will be taking on Wednesday. If we get all the way through Innovation or Orthodoxy on MondayI might ask you to talk me through the main points here as well:

Imagine you are Galileo. You are trying to explain your view that motion is the cause of heat. The person you are talking to is convinced that the view of bodies suggested by our senses, and our common sense ways of talking about our experience, seems so much more plausible.

What considerations offered by the meditator in Descartes’s Meditations might you use to try to get this person to understand your point? Why, specifically, do you think these might be helpful?

How do you think Descartes would help you answer the question this person might ask about your reasons for trusting mathematics over the senses?

How could Descartes’ view help you respond to a question about what you mean when you refer to a sensitive body in the context of explaining that there is nothing in the body we call hot that resembles our perception of heat?

Now, imagine you are asked to respond to charges that your view concerning the solar system is dangerous to society insofar as it contradicts the teaching of the Catholic Church.

  • Would Descartes be any help for you in defending your commitment to heliocentrism against the charge that it conflicts with what the Bible teaches us about the natural world?
  • Could Descartes’ views be used in defense of the authority of reason in this area? If so, could they help us do it in a way that wouldn’t undermine the authority of the church in other areas?

Think about Descartes’ view concerning the authority of reason (vs. the authority of scripture and of church tradition) when it comes to understanding and explaining the natural world. Galileo held that it was consistent with traditional views of God and of the Catholic church to say that the church has authority in theological matters, but that reason has authority in the natural sciences. Galileo also thinks he can provide a theological justification for this view:

God created us with a natural capacity for reasoning

That capacity is what makes us most Godlike (created in God’s image)

So, we must be able to trust reason when it comes to distinguishing between the way things appear to the senses (e.g., geocentrism) and the way we can conclude that they really are through calculations and intellectual considerations (e.g., heliocentrism).

Do the Meditations offer us something similar that Galileo and others could use to argue that there really is no conflict between Church authority and the authority of reason?

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