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Copernican Anti-Aristotelianism

  • Barry Brundell
Chapter
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Part of the Synthese Historical Library book series (SYHL, volume 30)

Abstract

Scepticism was Gassendi’s chief weapon against Aristotelianism because it enabled him to cast doubt on all that the Aristotelians asserted. But there were other weapons, more limited in range than scepticism, in Gassendi’s arsenal, and chief among these was astronomy. Aristotelianism was losing ground in astronomy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as a number of discoveries were made which refuted particular doctrines of Aristotelian cosmology. Galileo Galilei became a leader in the field during this period, and especially under his influence the anti-Aristotelian potential of the new developments in astronomy were exploited to such a degree that a clamorous debate arose between Aristotelian anti-Copernicans who were opposed to Galileo, and Copernican anti-Aristotelians who followed Galileo. Gassendi joined the debate, and his writings reflect its course: he began as an enthusiastic Copernican anti-Aristotelian follower of Galileo; he suffered from afar the trauma of the condemnation of Galileo; and he ended his days as a mild Tychonian with most of his anti-Aristotelian fire spent.

Keywords

Outer Sphere Late Sixteenth Aristotelian Tradition Chapter Heading Copernican Theory 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cf. Galileo Galilei et al. (1960, Stillman Drake and CD. O’Malley, Trans.), The controversy on the comets of 1618: Galileo Galilei, Horatio Grassi, Mario Guiducci, Johann Kepler, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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  3. 3.
    Tycho Brahe, De mundi aetherii recentioribus phaenomenis, pp.82–83; Aristotle, Meteorologica 344a5–345a10. For a description of Tycho’s methods for determining parallax, cf. J.L.E. Dreyer: 1890, Tycho Brahe. A picture of scientific life and work in the sixteenth century (1963, Dover Publications, New York), pp.165–166.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, IV, p.78; cf. Gassendi’s other references to Tycho’s observations of comets, e.g. P. Gassendi, idem, IV, p.702b; also Gassendi’s preface to his biography of Tycho Brahe, P. Gassendi: 1654, Tychonis Brahei, equitis Dani, astronomorum coriphaei, vita..., in P. Gassendi, Tychonis Brahe Dani opera omnia , V, pp.363–496.Google Scholar
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  6. 6.
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  8. 8.
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  12. 10c.
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    There were still quite a number of people in the seventeenth century arguing the traditional Aristotelian position that comets were sublunar, atmospheric phenomena; cf. Lothario Sarsi (= Orazio Grassi) in S. Drake and CD. O’Malley, The controversy on the comets, p.73; Gassendi commented in similar manner in his biography of Tycho Brahe, cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, V, p. 163; cf. also I, p.703a; V, p.417a-b.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.702b.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, opera omnia, I, p.518b. Of course, Gassendi was able to base his argument on recorded appearances of Novae and, after 1626, on his own observations of sunspots, but the evidence of comets was always especially impressive if for no other reason than that comets arouse intense public interest. Cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, IV, p.99; I, pp.517b–518b.Google Scholar
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    “... et stellis fixis et soli comparatur quies: Terrae vero, quasi uni ex planetis, conciliatur motus...” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p. 102.)Google Scholar
  26. 20.
    “Inprimis ergo, mi Galilee, velim sic tibi persuasum habeas, me tanta cum animi voluptate amplexari Coperniceam illam tuam in astronomia sententiam, ut exinde videar mei probe iuris factus, cum soluta, et libera mens vagatur per immensa spatia, effractis nempe vulgaris mundi sustematisque repagulis.” (Letter to Galileo of 20.7.1625, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.4b.)Google Scholar
  27. 21.
    “Mihi certe nihil est antiquius quam colere summam sapientiam ac eruditionem tuam. Ex quo enim tempore tuus ille caelestium interpres tarn incognita generi humano patefecit mysteria, dici non potest quo tacito cultu memet tibi devoverim.” (Idem, p.4a.)Google Scholar
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    Galileo Galilei: 1613, Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti comprese in tre lettere scrine all’illustrissimo signor Marco Velseri Linceo da signor Galileo Galilei Linceo, G. Mascardi, Rome.Google Scholar
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    “... foelicitatis ingenii tui laudator perpetuus, quocumque ducas sim sequuturus... Perge tu, admirande vir, sublimeis curas agitare, dignas maiestate naturae, dignas te ipso, dignas iis qui avebunt te imitari.” (Letter to Galileo of 1.3.1632, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, pp.45b–46a.)Google Scholar
  31. 25.
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    Cf. letter to Galileo of 20.7.1625 already quoted, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.4a–b.Google Scholar
  33. 27.
    “... quam grate acceperim librum, quam iucunde percurrerim. Equidem tanta sum affectus inter legendum voluptate ut etiam-num, quoties mente repeto mirifice movear.” (Letter to Galileo of 1.11.1632, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.53b.)Google Scholar
  34. 28.
    “Dicerem plura, sed si perspectus tibi utcumque meus est genius, divinabis plane nihil esse in tuis ratiociniis quod summopere mihi non arrideat.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.53b.)Google Scholar
  35. 29.
    “... de observatis solaribus maculis emittere nihil in animo est, nisi quod iuxta principia tua conducere videbitur ad impugnandam Aristotelismum, adhortandumque homines ad aliquam verisimiliorem sanioremque philosophiam.” (Letter to Galileo of 20.7.1625, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.5a.)Google Scholar
  36. 30.
    Cf. Pierre Humbert: 1936, L’Oeuvre astronomique de Gassendi (Actualités scientifiques et industrielles 378), Paris, p.4.Google Scholar
  37. 31.
    Cf. letter to Galileo of 1.3.1632. Referring to the copy of his account of the observation of the transit of Mercury (P. Gassendi: 1632, Mercurius in sole vi sus et Venus invisa Pari siis anno 1631... Epistolae duae, cum observatis quibusdam aliis, S. Cramoisy, Paris) which he enclosed with his letter, Gassendi wrote to Galileo: “Receive this as a work which belongs to you, since whatever is a result of your discoveries must be sent back to you.” “Tu ut debitum excipe, cum referendum ad te sit quidquid debetur tuis inventis.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, P.45a.)Google Scholar
  38. 32.
    Johann Kepler: 1630, Admonitio ad astronomos, rerumque coelestium studiosos, de raris mirisque anni 1631 phaenomenis Veneris puta et Mercurii in solem incursu, excerpta ex ephemeride anni 1631 e certo author i s consilio huic praemissa..., Frankfurt.Google Scholar
  39. 33.
    Cf. letter to Peiresc of 21.7.1629 (P. Tamizey de Larroque (Ed.), Lettres de Peiresc, IV, pp. 198–202).Google Scholar
  40. 34.
    Christoph Scheiner: 1630, Rosa ursina, sive sol ex admirando facularum et macularum phoenomeno varius... libris quatuor mobilis ostensus, Bracciani; Carolus Malapertius: 1633, Austriaca sidera heliocyclia, astronomicis hypothesibus illigata, opera R. P. Carol i Malapertii..., Duaci.Google Scholar
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    P. Tamizey de Larroque (Ed.), Lettres de Peiresc, IV, p.201.Google Scholar
  42. 36.
    The list reads: Rheticus, Maestlin, Gilbert, Lansberg, Schickard, Hortensius, Bouillaud, and above all, Kepler and Galileo. Cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.620a (cf. MS Tours 710, f.629v). Philip of Lansberg was a friend of Isaac Beeckman, and no doubt it was Beeckman who made Gassendi aware of his lost opportunity in not visiting Lansberg while Gassendi was at Middelbourg. Gassendi made reference to Lansberg on several occasions: P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, IV, pp.502b–503a; I, p.565a.Google Scholar
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    “... le meilleur philosophe que j’aye encore rencontré”. (P. Tamizey de Larroque, Opera omnia, IV, p.201.)Google Scholar
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    C. de Waard (Ed.): 1939, Journal tenu par Isaac Beeckman de 1604 à 1634..., 4 vols., La Haye, I, pp.123–124.Google Scholar
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    S. Marolois: 1628, Oeuvres mathematicques... traictant de la géométrie et fortification... corrigées..., G.J. Caesius, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
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    “... tous ces gens la sont pour le mouvement de la terre.” (letter to Peiresc of 21.7.1629, Lettres de Peiresc, IV. p.201.)Google Scholar
  48. 42.
    Cf. P. Duhem: 1629, To save the phenomena. An essay on the idea of physical theory from Plato to Galileo (E. Doland and C. Maschler (Transi.)), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ch. 7.Google Scholar
  49. 43.
    Gassendi’s use of the term “opinion” is discussed in Ch. 4, infra.Google Scholar
  50. 44.
    “Antiquorum omnium rationes et hypotheses apparere nugas et insomnia mera, quando cum invento tuo comparator.” (Letter to Galileo of 1.11.1632, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.54a.)Google Scholar
  51. 45.
    Letter to Peiresc of 28.4.1631, enclosure, Lettres de Peiresc, IV, pp.250–252.Google Scholar
  52. 46.
    P. Gassendi, Syntagma philosophicum, pars secunda, quae est physica, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 125–77, p.658.Google Scholar
  53. 47.
    Cf. P. Duhem, To save the phenomena, pp.92ff, bearing in mind Edward Rosen’s criticism of the sweeping nature of Duhem’s historical account of the reifying of the hypotheses of the celestial spheres; cf. E. Rosen: 1985, “Dissolution of the solid celestial spheres”, in Journal of the history of ideas, 46, pp. 13–31.Google Scholar
  54. 48.
    Galileo Galilei, Le opere di Galileo Galilei (1890–1909, Edizione Nazionale sotto gli auspicii di sua Maestà il re d’Italia), 20 vols, in 21, G. Barbera, Florence, XIX, pp.402–407.Google Scholar
  55. 49.
    “Ex amplis nuper a Galileo epistolis rescivi ipsum brevi Romae, quo citatus est, adfuturum. Id miratus sum, quoniam nihil non approbatum edidit; sed nostrum non est nosse haec momenta.” (Letter of Gassendi to Campanella of 8.5.1633 in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.56b.) Neither the letter here referred to nor any of the other letters written by Galileo to Gassendi have been traced.Google Scholar
  56. 50.
    “Magna mea tenet expectatio (o magnum aevi nostri Decus) quid rerum tibi contigerit. Tametsi enim rumore crebro nescio quid divulgatum est, haud fido nihilominus donec res fuerit plane perspecta.” (Letter of Gassendi to Galileo of 19.1.1634, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p.66b.)Google Scholar
  57. 51.
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    Galileo Galilei, Opere, XIX, pp.321, 322.Google Scholar
  59. 53.
    “A propos de Mr Diodati je suy bien aise de la faveur que vous luy faites en envoyant vostre Foscarin. Il sera bon neantmoins de l’avertir qu’il prenne garde que Bernegger ne face point mention que vous le luy avez envoye. Escrivant a Mr Diodati je lui diray a tout hazard ce que peut estre il ne scait pas, c’est que le dit Foscarin avec Galilei avoient este censurez des je ne scay quelle annee, me souvenant d’en avoir veu la censure dans le commentaire du pere Mercenne sur la Genese; ce ne sera pas pour l’empescher de faire ce qu’il voudra faire, mais afin qu’il soit adverty du tout.” (Letter to Peiresc of 11.2.1634, in Lettres de Peiresc, IV, pp.458–459.)Google Scholar
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    P.A. Foscarini: 1615, Lettera del R. Padre Maestro Paolo Antonio Foscarini, Carmelitano, sopra Vopinione de’ Pittagorici e del Copernico della mobilità della terra e stabilità del sole, e il nuovo Pittagorico sistema del mondo, L. Scoriggio, Napoli.Google Scholar
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  62. 56.
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  63. 57a.
    Jean-Baptiste Morin (1583–1656) was an astrologer and Hermeticist, and a champion of anti-Copernicanism. He was a life-long irritant for Gassendi. He criticised Morin’s astrological writings for their alleged absurdities and contradictions (cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp.726b–727a; also the letter of Gassendi to Galtier of 9.6.1631, in C. de Waard (Ed.): 1945–1972, Correspondence du P. Marin Mersenne, Religieux Minime, 12 vols., Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, III, pp. 173–179). Gassendi sharply rebuked Morin for calling Kepler a “wholly Earth-bound, fibrous philosopher”, (terrestrem, fibratumque admodum philosophum), when referring to Kepler’s theory of gravitational attraction (cf. letter of Gassendi to Galtier of 9.7.1631, in de Waard, idem, III, p. 174).Google Scholar
  64. 57b.
    The public exchanges continued between Gassendi and Morin after Morin’s attack on Gassendi’s writings on motion in 1642 (cf. infra.), becoming increasingly bitter, and Morin eventually widened the scope of his attack on Gassendi’s work to embrace his Epicurean philosophy as a whole (cf. J.-B. Morin: 1650, Dissertatio... de atomis et vacuo contra P. Gassendi Philosophiam Epicuream, Paris). Despite their different outlooks, Morin and Gassendi were both former pupils of the one master, Joseph Galtier; cf. letter of Gassendi to Galtier of 9.7.1631, in Correspondence de Mer senne, III, p. 173, note 1.Google Scholar
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    Gassendi acknowledged Morin’s presence in his inaugural oration, cf. P. Gassendi: 1645, “Oratio inauguralis habita in Regio Parisiensi Collegio, anno 1645, die Novembris 23”, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, IV, p.72b.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi: 1642, De motu impresso a motore translato epistolae duae, in quibus aliquot paraecipuae, tum de motu universe, tum speciatim de motu terrae attributo, difficultates explicantur, L. de Heuqueville, Paris.Google Scholar
  68. 61.
    Cf. J.-B. Morin: 1643, Alae telluris fractae cum physica demonstratione, quod opinio copernicana de telluris motu sit falsa, et novo conceptu de oceani fluxu atque refluxu, adversus clarissimi viri Petri Gassendi libellum de motu impresso a motore translato..., Paris.Google Scholar
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    Pierre de Cazrée: 1645, Physica demonstratio, qua ratio, mensura, modus ac potentia accelerationis motus in naturali descensu gravium determinatur adversus nuper excogitatum a Galileo Galilei,... de eodem motu pseudo-scientiam..., J. Du Breuil, Paris.Google Scholar
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    “Non exigis, ut repetam fecisse me id, non ut telluri assererem motum, sed ut veritatis amore, innuerem quietem ipsius firmiore ratione esse stabiliendum.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.519a.) Cf. also, Allen G. Debus: 1963, “Pierre Gassendi and his ‘scientific expedition’ of 1640”, in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 16, pp. 129–142.Google Scholar
  71. 64.
    Cf. Joseph T. Clark: 1963, “Pierre Gassendi and the physics of Galileo”, in Isis, 54, pp.352–370.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi: 1643, De motu impresso a motore translato e pi stola III in librum a viro cl. loanne M orino, Regio Matheseos Profes sore, conscriptus est adversus duas priores epístolas, et inscriptus ‘Alae telluris fractae’. (Cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, pp.521b–563b.)Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, De proportione qua gravia accidentia accelerantur epistolae tres, quibus ad totidem epistolas R.P. Petri Cazrei... respondetur, L. de Heuqueville, Paris.Google Scholar
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    S. Drake (Ed.), Discoveries and opinions of Galileo, pp.173–216.Google Scholar
  75. 68.
    “... non de consistentia in eodem loco, sed de constantia in sui compositione, incorruptioneve secundum se totam (quasi fiant quidem in partibus eius, ac superficialibus praesertim, generationum, corruptionumque vicissitudines continentes, sed ipsa tarnen interim secundum se totam eadem constanter perseveret.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p,630a; cf. MS Tours 710, f.652v.) Cf. also P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, pp.9a–10b (cf. MS Tours 707, gg.863v–865v); III, p.519a-b; IV, p.60a.Google Scholar
  76. 69.
    “... quod ea loco secus explicentur a viris, quorum, ut constat, tanta est in Ecclesia auctoritas, ea propter ipsa ab illis sto, et hac occasione faceré captivum intellectum non erubesco.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.519b.)Google Scholar
  77. 70.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.641b.Google Scholar
  78. 71.
    “... illorum iudicium habendum praeiudicium sit, quod non possit apud fideleis non esse maximi momenti.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.519b. Cf. I, p. 630a (cf. MS Tours 710, f.653r-v), IV, p.60b. It is noteworthy that Gassendi’s interpretation of the force of the sentence against Galileo was identical with that expressed by the Jesuit Father Riccioli in his Almagestum novum astronomiam veterum novamque complectens (1651), p. 162; cf. Jerome J. Langford: 1966, Galileo, science and the Church, Desclee Co., New York, p. 156.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p. 641b; Cf I, p.617b.Google Scholar
  80. 73.
    Cf. the title of the Dialogo itself.Google Scholar
  81. 74.
    Cf. MS Tours 710, ff.620v–627v.Google Scholar
  82. 75.
    “Adnotari praeterea potest duas esse quasi capitaleis de dispositione mundi opiniones, aliam vulgarem, et ab Aristotele praesertim defensam, quae terram statuit in centro mundi; aliam abhorrentem a sensu, ac olim praecipue a Piatone, Pythagoricisque et nuper a Copernico, sequacibusque propugnatam, quae solem in centro constituit.” (MS Tours 709, f.442r.) In the Syntagma version Gassendi attributed the heliocentric theory to Plato “in his old age” (“iam senescentis”) (cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 148a). He was almost certainly referring to the Timaeus of Plato, in which the theories of the World Body and the World Soul were expounded (especially Plato, Timaeus 31B–37C; cf. the edition of F.M. Cornford: 1937, Plato’s cosmology. The Timaeus of Plato, London, pp.43–97). The soul at the centre of the world, as described in Timaeus 34B, was identified with the Sun, source of vital generation through its heat and light, in Neoplatonic and Hermetic writings, and in Copernican theory.Google Scholar
  83. 76.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp. 147a–149a; cf. also IV, p.62b.Google Scholar
  84. 77.
    1. De caeli siderumque substantia; 2. de varietate, positione et intervallis siderum; 3. de magnitudine et figura siderum; 4. de motu corporum caelestium. (Enclosure with a letter of Gassendi to Peiresc of 28.4.1631, in Lettres de Peiresc, IV, pp.250–252.)Google Scholar
  85. 78.
    That was the point of his journey to the Low Countries; also cf infra, Ch. 3.Google Scholar
  86. 79.
    “probabiliore, aut perspicua magis” (MS Tours 710, f.627r; P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.617b.Google Scholar
  87. 80.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp.615b–630b; MS Tours 710, f.624v–653v.Google Scholar
  88. 81.
    Compare, e.g., MS Tours 710, f.653r-v with the corresponding passage in the Syntagma version (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.630a). In the Syntagma version Gassendi found it advisable to moderate further the pro-Copernican tenor of the passage.Google Scholar
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    The story of Descartes’ hesitations about publishing Le monde has some parallels with Gassendi’s cautious manoeuvres. Descartes suppressed his original treatise following the condemnation of Galileo and presented a revised version in the Principia in 1644; cf. R. Descartes, Le monde, ou Traité de la lumière (1979, M.S. Mahoney (Trans.), Abaris Books, Inc., New York), Introduction. The first version of Gassendi’s Pars logica is also missing, presumably destroyed along with the first version of the Pars physica with which it would have been collected together. There would have been little reason to preserve the Pars logica, since Gassendi went on to write three further versions of the logic. One is preserved in MS Carpentras 1832, ff.205r–256r (1634). Another was described by Gassendi in a long series of letters to Louis of Valois in 1642 (cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, pp.138–154). The final version (post 1649) was published in the Syntagma (cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp.31–124).Google Scholar
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    Olivier Bloch in his work La philosophie de Gassendi, pp.80–109, has described Gassendi’s scepticism as a “constant” in his philosophy. In this chapter I have presented a picture of Gassendi as being rather selective in his scepticism, and I have argued that his scepticism tended to wax and wane. It does not seem possible to describe Gassendi’s attitude to Galileo’s Copernicanism as being a sceptical one before 1634, while his attitude became markedly sceptical after that date.Google Scholar
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    “Simili modo, qui contendet illud esse immobile, quomodo evincet ipsum non moveri, ac potissimum cum videamus quae corpora in illo sunt, ab ortu in occasum ferri? Et qui contendit mobile esse, quomodo evincet non esse immobile; ac potissimum cum, tametsi astra appareant moveri in occasum, tarn id possit contingere translatione nostri in ortum, quam apparet nobis e nave moveri portum versus navim; quamvis certum sit portum quiescere, et navim versus ipsum moveri?” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 152a (cf. MS Tours 709, f.444).) Cf. also P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.513a-b (cf. MS Tours 710, f.588r-v), I. p.583a (cf. MS Tours 7120, f.612v). Gassendi did not attribute the same weight to Galileo’s arguments for the Copernican system as he had done previously.Google Scholar
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    “Adeo proinde, ut quibus tueri Coperniceam hypothesis religio est, Braheana praesto occurrat, quae verisimillima omnium sit.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.630a.)Google Scholar
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    “Denique solemne iam esse, ut cum hypothesis Ptolemaica, et qua praesertim constat ex solidis orbibus, Mercuriumque ac Venerem infra Solem detinet, defendi commode non possit; Copernicea vero ob motum Terrae attributum, qui repugnans Sacrae Scripturae videatur, soleat refugi, neque ulla alia supersit quae salvandis phaenomenis aeque ac Tychonica idonea sit; ideo ipsa sit quam amplecti passim ac tueri iuvet.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.615a.)Google Scholar
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    I cannot trace the comparison in Kepler’s published works.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, V, p.384.Google Scholar
  112. 105.
    As quoted from L. Sarsi (=O. Grassi), in S. Drake and CD. O’Malley (Eds), The controversy on the comets, p.71.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry Brundell
    • 1
  1. 1.Saint Paul’s National SeminarySydneyAustralia

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