Wednesday, February 02, 2011

John Heilbron on Vincenzo Galilei: Influence on Galileo

Galileo Galilei
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm currently reading the Galileo biography that my old UC Berkeley history of science professor John Heilbron arranged to have sent to me by Oxford University Press, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far. Indeed, I learned something interesting just yesterday about one particularly powerful influence on Galileo as an independent thinker:
Among the many cultural gurus who helped develop . . . [Galileo's] taste and character during the four years he lived at home between leaving Pisa without a degree and returning as a professor, the most influential was his father. Vincenzo Galilei was then engaged in defending the modernizing program he set out in 1581 in his Dialogo della musica antica e della moderna (1581). Musical theory needed overhauling, according to Galilei, because the current orthodoxy, as represented by [his teacher, the theorist and composer Gioseffè] Zarlino, did not correspond to practice. Zarlino accepted Ptolemy -- the same deserving Ptolemy whose cosmology Galileo would savage -- and cleaved to him although the simplest experiment would convince an educated ear that modern music did not use the Ptolemaic diatonic scale. Galilei's spokesman in his Dialogue on ancient and modern music is his patron [Giovanni de'] Bardi[, the Count of Vernio, also a composer,] who explains the matter to an astute and inquisitive mutual friend, the practical musician[, and Florentine patrician and composer,] Piero Strozzi. They agree as a condition of the discussion that "we always set aside (as Aristotle says in the eighth book of the Physics) not only authority but seemingly plausible reasoning that may be contrary to any perception of truth." Vincenzo Galilei was a theorist of integrity. He did not just reject authority but showed by "sensory experience and necessary demonstration," as Galileo would say, just where the authority went astray. (John L. Heilbron, Galileo, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, pages 8-9)
The passage continues, but I halt here, for I think that we can see where Professor Heilbron is going with this passage. He's foreshadowing the son's intellectual development by demonstrating the father's. Vincenzo Galilei was a man to question intellectual authority, but one who did so with integrity, relying on empiricism and rigorous logic, without which, the questioning of authority is mere rudderless rebellion, irrational and arbitrary.

I'm reading a bit into Heilbron's text in those final words of mine, I admit, so I have yet to see what my old professor himself still has to say about the matter. Anyway, I'm learning a lot -- and wishing that I knew more about music, now that I see how important it was for Galileo.

More another time . . .

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At 3:27 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

relying on empiricism and rigorous logic

Maybe not that much. See Paul Feyerabend, Against Method.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Also, see Heilbron, further on in the biography. Galileo learned to appeal to empiricism and rigorous logic, and even use them, but he was often bluffing, which he learned from his love of gambling, and acting out in his intellectual battles the part of the proud and adventurous knight Orlando, whom he knew well from Ariosto, having memorized large sections of the poem.

Speaking of romantic heroes, I once danced with Feyerabend's inamorata and had her smiling . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:49 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

That's why I love surfing here :-)

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Me, too. I learn all sorts of things about myself.

As I recall, her name was "Grazia" . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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