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Galileo: a Typical Renaissance Astronomer

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Submitted By mbeauregard
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The Renaissance is known as a time of rebirth of thinking, learning, and teaching. One of the main changes associated with this time is the expansion of culture and intellect. It was a time of changes that included new and different ways of gaining knowledge, the general expansion of the sharing of knowledge, and broadened scholastic authority; all of which are exemplified by Galileo Galilei and his works. Galileo is an excellent example of a typical Renaissance astronomer.

Prior to the Renaissance, scholar’s blindly followed Aristotle and his works on the philosophy of nature. It wasn’t until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that scholars began to challenge the works of Aristotle. This is said to be one of the reasons for which the Renaissance came about. Before the Renaissance, almost all scholar’s were blind followers of Aristotle. His “tried and true” theories were somewhat of a habit and it was easier to have faith in his works rather than challenge the church and the majority of scholars at the time. Fortunately the Renaissance brought along a changed view on education and led to altered ways of thinking. Scholar’s began to use their senses as tools for learning, as well as reason and logic. In Galileo’s case he challenged many of Aristotle’s works, who was the leading philosopher at the time and was also supported by the church. More specifically Galileo rejected Aristotelian theories of motion and was led to create his own theories and publish his laws of motion in his Discourse on the Two New Sciences. In this publication it is clear that Galileo is not afraid to challenge the past and to publish new ideas that contradict past theories. “There is perhaps nothing in nature older than motion, about which volumes neither few nor small have been written by philosophers; yet I find many essentials of it that are worth knowing which have not yet been remarked, let alone demonstrated” this quotation clearly demonstrates Galileo’s boldness when it comes to expressing his opinions against past theorists, as well as his ability to observe motion and discover new information that was never known before. Another factor to notice in this excerpt is the part about demonstration. Until the Renaissance began experimentation was not common and its effectiveness went unnoticed. Galileo, being heavily influenced by the Renaissance, used experiments often and was thus able to prove his theories. Without experimentation’s newfound popularity Galileo would not have been unable to prove his laws of motion (and other various laws) truthful. This new use of experimentation that came along with the Renaissance can also be observed in the area of anatomy, where scholar’s were able to dissect the human body and finally understand its functions.

Another factor that led to Galileo’s success as a Renaissance astronomer was the availability of information. Prior to the Renaissance, books were in short supply. Initially, a single bible would cost a clerk three years of work’s pay, but prices dropped and books became available to people who had never seen a book before. This new availability of information led to a heightened demand for knowledge and information. It also gave way to increased number of aspiring scholars. Having books available for everyone allowed people to educate themselves and inspired critical thinking. Both of these factors combined led to many more theories, published works, inventions, and experiments. All of this intellectual progress triggered by the newly available scholastic material resulted in a large amount of hopeful scholars, Galileo being one of them.

Along with the printing press and the widespread availability of books, came patronage. This method of teaching consisted of scholars who would teach dukes, princes, and anyone else with the finances to be taught. Scholar’s would work their way up the ladder of patronage by teaching people higher and higher up the socioeconomic ladder. Patronage was extremely popular during the Renaissance because it allowed scholar’s to have their work recognized and heard, as well as being means for money. For Galileo, patronage was of major importance. He put much of his work into patronage; “Galileo was every inch an early modern courtier, a kind of intellectual knight, with power to gain (and lose), and constantly looking for innovations to aid and glorify his patron” (p. 122 PTU) this part of the text clearly depicts Galileo’s appreciation for his patrons and his constant yearning to please them. After years of patronage Galileo had his eye on the Medicis family as his next patron, so when he discovered four moons rotating Jupiter he chose to name them after the prospective family in order to gain their approval, which in the end was successful and Galileo was hired. Without patronage Galileo would have been another aspirant scholar with little reputation, but after being employed by the Medicis (one of the richest families in Europe at the time), he flourished and gained much respect from fellow scholars and wealthy families as a Renaissance astronomer.

The Renaissance also led to broadened scholastic authority. Education and learning left the universities and churches and leaked into the courts and streets, where ambitious scholars could be found teaching and exchanging information. Because of the wide exchange of theories and work, the title of being a scholar did not only apply to those who studied in the universities or churches anymore. Aspiring scholars were recognized and respected, without having to attend university, or study in the church. Galileo was one of these scholars, as he did all of is work at court rather than in the church institutions or universities. This movement from institutions to the court created an immediate broadened scholastic authority, something that was a major factor in the Renaissance.

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