Philosophy 515/History 591
Themes and Agenda
The course will deal with the thought of Galileo and Descartes about
the physical world. The fundamental question is to understand the very
different ways these two figures approached the study of nature. Can we
know the nature of body and the ultimate causes of things, and do we
need to know them in order to have genuine knowledge? What are laws of
nature and how can we know them? How is it possible to apply mathematics
to the world? Is it possible derive simple mathematical laws that govern
the behavior of bodies in motion? What is the role of experience in
coming to know about nature? More generally, what strategies did these
two thinkers use to derive basic facts about the way the world is?
These questions will be pursued both historically and philosophically.
Historically, we will focus on understanding some of the main texts of
these authors, read in the context of time, place, and circumstance. We
will play particular attention to the shifting geography of knowledge,
and the evolution of intellectual categories such as (natural)
philosophy, (mixed) mathematics, and physico-mathematics.
Philosophically, we will attempt to show the importance of approaching
through real historical examples central questions in epistemology and
the philosophy of science, questions about scientific knowledge,
experience, and the mathematicization of nature.
|Week 1 (2/5):
||Galileo Galilei, Discourses and Demonstrations Concerning Two New Sciences, Day 1, - and Day 3, - (bracketed page numbers refer to the National Edition and are included both the Crew-DeSalvio [ html] and Drake translations)|
|Week 2 (2/12):
|| We'll continue our reading of Day III of the Discourses.
You can download a pdf copy of the original 1638 text here (high-speed connection only; it's a large file).
Some pertinent secondary sources include:
|Week 3 (2/19):
||Continuing with Day III
|Week 4 (2/26):
||Continuing with Day III
In the scholium following Prop. II, Galileo refers to "an old treatise on mechanics written at Padua for the use of his pupils." That is Le meccaniche (1600) and is available in Galileo Galilei, On motion and On mechanics, trans.I.E. Drabkin and Stillman Drake (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960). But for an even earlier treatment of forces and motions on inclined planes, closely related to the discussion in the scholium, see Chap. 14 of the treatise On motion.
For an analysis of these early works, read Chap. 3 of Clavelin's Natural Philosophy of Galileo
|Week 5 (3/4):
|Week 6 (3/11):
|Week 7 (3/25):
||Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Rules 1-6, 8, 12, 13-14. (Latin text) (Another Latin text)|
|Week 8 (4/1):
Continuing discussion of the Rules, Rules 13-16
Descartes, Dioptrics (or in Olscamp's trans. Optics), Discourses 1-4, 8, 10
Descartes, Meteors (or in Olscamp's trans. Meteorology), Discourse 8 (On the rainbow)
Daniel Garber, "Descartes and Experiment in the Discourse and
Essays, in Essays on the Philosophy and Science of René
Descartes, ed. Stephen Voss (Oxford U.P., 1993), Chap. 18
|Week 9 (4/8):||
Descartes, Geometry (either the Olscamp or the Smith-Latham
Michael S. Mahoney, The Beginnings of Algebraic Thought in the Seventeenth Century", in S. Gaukroger (ed.), Descartes: Philosophy, Mathematics and Physics (Sussex: The Harvester Press/Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1980), Chap.5
H.J.M. Bos, "On the representation of Curves in Descartes' Géométrie", Archive for History of Exact Science 24(1981), 295-338.
|Week 10 (4/15):
Descartes, Principles of Philosophy, Part II (
1-25 [Veitch trans.]
Pars. 24-54; Part III, Paragraphs 56-59; and
Letter to Clerselier [Mahoney trans.])
Descartes, The World, Chaps. 1-7
|Week 11 (4/22):
||Continuing with Principles and World, Part II, plus Part IV, Pars. 20-27 and World Chap. 11 on gravity.|