Finocchiaro, Maurice. the Trial of Galileo: Essential Documents

By Dougherty, Jude P. | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Finocchiaro, Maurice. the Trial of Galileo: Essential Documents


Dougherty, Jude P., The Review of Metaphysics


FINOCCHIARO, Maurice. The Trial of Galileo: Essential Documents. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2014. xii + 160 pp.--This book draws upon Finocchiaro's previously published works, The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History (1989) and Retrying Galileo: 1633-1992 (2005), at once making those masterful works more readily accessible while adding some new material.

The narrative really begins with Copernicus, who in 1543 published his epoch-making On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres. The book updated an idea originally advanced in ancient Greece by the Pythagoreans and by Aristarchus of Samos--namely, that the earth rotates on its own axis daily and revolves around the sun yearly. Copernicus advanced a new argument supporting an old idea, albeit a hypothetical one. It had the advantage of simplicity in accounting for the known movement of the heavenly bodies. It contradicted the physics or the science of motion at the time. Copernicus realized that his hypothesis did not prove the earth's motion, but his argument was so important that it could not be ignored.

Galileo, as a professor of mathematics at the University of Padua, did not embrace the Copemican view until 1609, when he became actively involved in astronomy. Until then he actually believed that the anti-Copernican arguments outweighed the supposed heliocentric view. But between 1609 and 1613 Galileo's telescopic discoveries convinced him of the merit of the Copernican view. His telescope had enabled him to make a series of startling discoveries. He found that a profusion of stars exists besides those available to the naked eye. He also discovered that the Milky Way and the visible celestial nebulas are dense collections of a large number of individual stars. He also discovered that the planet Jupiter has four moons revolving about it at different distances with different periods. Upon publication of these findings in his book The Sidereal Messenger, Galileo became a celebrity. Soon after he also discovered the phases of Venus and the reality of sun spots. In 1613, he published the History and Demonstrations concerning Sunspots. These discoveries substantially strengthened the case for Copernicanism.

Galileo's discoveries did not settle the issue of the truth of the Copernican view of the earth's motion, given that there was some astronomical counterevidence, mainly the failure to detect an annual stellar parallax and the fact that the physics of a moving earth had not been explicitly articulated. Above all there was the theological objection to a view that seemingly was incompatible with sacred scripture. Even though scientific arguments favored the geokinetic theory, they were inconclusive; the earth's motion remained a hypothesis. Galileo knew the difference between a hypothetical explanation and a demonstration.

Upon the publication of The Sidereal Messenger in 1610, Galileo was accused of heresy. The Congregation of the Holy Office commissioned a panel of eleven members to assess the charges. …

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