MIGUEL BOYAYANLife was difficult in Brazil in 1971, during the toughest phase of the military regime. Not just for opposition politicians and labor union leaders, but also for journalists, intellectuals, and artists in general. It was this year that the theater director José Celso Martinez Correia decided to go around Brazil on tour with a play called Galileo Galilei, a classic by Bertolt Brecht. What at first sight, seemed just a story was in fact a challenge, pure rebellion, a way of showing disagreement with the prevailing situation at the time.
It is precisely this spirit of unconformity with what is solidly established that the philosophy professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), Pablo Rubén Mariconda, 52 years old, shows among other things, through the translation of the most controversial work by the founder of modern science Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Dialogue on the Two Maximum World Systems, which is expected to be published in August. It is almost 900 pages long, with 60% of it previously unpublished, among which are 637 explanatory notes and an analytical summary of subjects and arguments put forward by the Italian intellectual. This is the masterwork that Mariconda explains below:
Why is it important to have a translation of this work by Galileo, commented as you have done in such unprecedented detail?
The Dialogue on the Two Maximum World Systems is one of the basic texts of modern science and we can even say that modern mechanics starts with it. As it was a very important text at the time, because of its ban, and because of the whole question that started from it, it became a classic work, constantly quoted whenever there are problems associated with the freedom of scientific research, in the advance of science, the impact of science on the society. For this reason, it seemed to me worthwhile translating the work faithfully. I could have modernized the author’s style. Some editions do this and translate the text with no respect for Galileo’s baroque style. To maintain the style, this means long sentences, at times tortuous argument that may put some readers off, but I did it exactly so that he could get round certain barriers imposed by the censorship of the time.So, I tried to maintain the baroque style and, to do this, I usedpadre Antonio Vieira’s (1608-1697) sermons a great deal. Padre Vieira, as a Jesuit, had essentially the same educationasGalileo, and was writing at the same time and in the same style, but in Portuguese.
Was your concern with sticking to the original text philosophical?
In general, translators and people that work with the text are concerned with scientific concepts. My concern was to restore the language and enable the public, through the explanatory notes, to follow Galileo’s mechanics and science, and also the intellectual scope of the work. It was to show readers the importance that the Dialogue had in the whole of Galileo’s trial. It seemed to me that respecting the baroque style would enable readers to get into the atmosphere better.
Although the style is baroque, isn’t the structure similar to Plato’s dialogues?
Yes and no. Plato’s dialogues are in the form of a Dialogue based on the idea of the maieutic method (Socratic dialectic and teaching process) and of a procedure through which he who responds to Socrates’ questions provides the knowledge. At times, Galileo uses this rhetorical dialogue, generally to show how the Aristotelian method diverges from the questions precisely because it adheres too closely to Aristotle instead of seeking the answers for itself. It is at this point that he presents it in the form of a Dialogue closer to the platonic manner, as an expression of the critical spirit.
The Dialogue was the cause of the inquisitorial trial brought against Galileo and inspired Brecht and other authors. But, within Galileo work, isn’t this text of secondary importance?
In fact, Galileo’s most important work is the Discourse and Mathematical Demonstration Concerning Two New Sciences. This work founded modern physics, in which he creates two new sciences, as he calls them. The first is the science of the resistance of materials – an important part of physics because it leads directly to practical applications and engineering – and the other is the science of movement. The Discourse contains the first cinematic theory in the modern sense – he does not pursue the dynamics, nor deal with the causes of movement, but he describes mathematically how the movement takes place in nature. The work dates from 1638, in other words, it was published six years after the Dialogue. It is of great scientific importance, but it has none of the intellectual aspects and revolutionary character that mark the Dialogue.
As your translation is the work of a philosopher, it would be of interest to describe the weight of the authoritarianism of the Inquisition in the 17th century.
In fact, the question of authority is more complicated than it seems. It is not just a question of the incisive defense that the Inquisition makes of the principle of authority. This question had been debated since the 15th century in Italy. Humanism and the Renaissance themselves focus centrally on this culture of authority. In the case of the Renaissance, it was the authority of authors: the great artists have to be imitated, respected, and understood. Humanism took this, to a certain extent, as a cultural recipe. In large part, it is a culture that builds on this authority given to ancient authorsand artists to construct a new platform. But it will always be a culture framed by forms of authoritarianism. When we reach the end of the 15th century and the advent of printing, and the discovery of the Americas, etc. this causes there to be, within the very Renaissance outlook, a total breakdown of the principles of authority, which were maintained inside this culture. So it becomes universal and we shall see a period of openness culminating in the in the mid 16th century with the Reformation, the schism of Christianity, and the catholic reaction in the form to the Counter-Reformation. It is interesting to note that both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation represented authoritarian reactions to a culture that was expanding horizons, in the sense that it was more open than could be accepted at that time. So, both the reformers and the Church acted in the name of authority and tradition.
Returning to the 17th century: why, having Galileo established two sciences, and having been the protagonist in the question of science versus the Aristotelian tradition, is Francis Bacon (1561-1626) considered the founder of modern science?
Let’s put a pinch of salt on this story. Bacon made no contribution in terms of scientific experiment, on the contrary, he adopted quite traditionalist positions. His great contribution lies in the idea of institutionalizing science, in the use the State could make of scientific knowledge for the material well-being of mankind, in satisfying material needs. There is a utilitarian aspect to science in Bacon and he sees that this science being created needs to be institutionalized.
So, in your view, Galileo is the real founder of modern science, and not Bacon?
Exactly.In conceptual rather than institutional terms.- Yes, we have two sides to the same problem. We can say: “good, Galileo’s science would achieve nothing if it weren’t institutionalized”, and this is true. So, Bacon plays his part: the perception needs to be institutionalized and the State can derive advantages from this institutionalization of science. It leads very clearly to the utilitarian aspect of science and, as a result, its connection with power. Meanwhile, Galileo is producing the first scientific theories in a concept of active science, but not in a concept of utilitarian science.
To help us understand the 17th century, how would you put Galileo in relation to Isaac Newton (1643-1727)? He resolved the question of tides in a way that Galileo was unable to do. And how would you put Galileo in relation to important 17th century philosophers, like Espinosa?
Among the individuals that clearly marked the 16th century, I would put Galileo, Descartes (René, 1596-1650), and Espinosa (Baruch, 1632- 1677). Newton was really between the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Newtonian viewpoint belongs to the 18th century. What is interesting in the science of this century is that the most creative thinkers of the time are marked by a radical abandonment of tradition and by the awareness of the need to build something new, to start from scratch. Descartes expresses this point of view very clearly when he says more or less as follows: “Every time I pick up a book and, right at the beginning, the author promises me that he has resolved a problem, I close the book, and I resolve the problem myself and after I go and see whether my solution is not better than his and, invariably, it is better”. This shows this idea of independence and a total abandonment of what had traditionally been done. I have the impression that this is the same freedom of movement, from the cosmological point of view, and the whole impactthat the question of the positionof the Earth in the Cosmos will have. And, finally, it will have an impact on ethics and on politics. Traditional ethics and politics are no longer possible, because there is no more tradition.
Will tradition and, particularly the tradition defended by the Catholic Church, be defeated in this clash?
Let’s say that what is lost, from the standpoint of tradition, is the universal spirit of Christianity, of a single government within Christendom. What we will have from the economic and political point of view is the emergence of nation states.
Does Galileo come out the trial by the Inquisition ennobled or does he become an ambiguous figure?
Well, let’s say that there are two levels. On the personal level, obviously Galileo comes out of the inquisitorial trial humiliated. He always thought he would get the 1616 anti-Copernican edict revoked and he didn’t. He was condemned in 1632 and the edict was only revoked in 1847, when the Church says “well, we have to accept that the Earth moves, that Copernican cosmology is more acceptable that traditional Ptolemaic cosmology”.
But the fact that he managed to write a work in which he reaffirmed his convictions, managed to publish it, and get out of the entire story with his skin intact and continue writing, doesn’t that represent a victory?
Undoubtedly. The publication of the Discourse, in 1638, is fundamental in this. Through it, he manages to show, six years after the trial, that he spoke in the name of science, and not just of some ideal. In the Dialogue he, more or less, announced that he would write the Discourse. This took place because the development of Galileo’s system of mechanics was already complete when he wrote the Dialogue, which Galileo did to defend the Earth’s movement. As I read it, this book was written not to present two systems to the world (that’s why the title is deceptive), but to prove the Earth’s movement. That is why he speaks about the tides in the fourth chapter, which, in his view, was the great proof of the movement. And, as a result, he would be able to force a revocation of the anti-Copernican edict.
It is curios that he should use the tides as support for affirming the most revolutionary point of his beliefs. It seams to us to be the chapter on the phenomenon most susceptible to criticism.
The tides are an extremely complex phenomenon and they have always fascinated scientists. Galileo was partly right in his explanation of the phenomenon: each of the maritime basins has a given frequency for transmitting the primary thrust that depends on the rotation of the Earth. And this part escapes Newton’s mechanical view. It in interesting because Newton was right as to the primary cause of tidal movement, namely gravitational pull, but he pays little attention to the secondary causes. Galileo was wrong about the primary cause but right about all the secondary causes.
Taking up his thinking again: Galileo writes the Dialogue before the Discourse less as a demonstration of mechanics and more to engage in the debate on current ideas?
The work defends the movement of the Earth, Copernicus’s central thesis. And, consequently, if the Earth moves, we all move with it and, therefore, it completely changes the relationship between the observer and the observed. Becausewe no longer have an observer rooted at the center of the world, but one in movement. As from that moment, everything we observe has to be corrected.
Does Galileo’s work already anticipate the divisions between science and philosophy?
Yes. I think there is a clear division between fact and values, or indeed a separation between science and religion, reason and faith. There will be a schism there, and questions of fact can be resolved scientifically with independent and not subjective methods, regardless of any value judgments, and philosophical questions will stay on the values side, together with ethical and religious questions and they cannot, therefore, be resolved by independent and impartial methods. This division is extremely important; it marks the beginning of modernity and we have problems even today with the repercussions of the separation between science and values.
A problematic separation, in fact.
This separation brought to the surface all the problems associated with neutrality. We can say that scientific judges are impartial because there is a method that regardless of any values, enables us to judge whether a given theory is true or false, whether we like it or not. And, then we have judgments that are independent, not depending on any other authority, which are impartial, and they can be used in the service of any value judgment once established and, therefore, they are independent of values. But a problem of neutrality emerges: are they in fact neutral in relation to the standpoint of values? No, because science is also applied, and when I apply scientific knowledge to technology, I have neutrality that is no longer independent of values. Obviously it depends on a standpoint of values, and these may be commercial or of the State, suggesting that such an application be carried out or not and there, we have social conditioning.
To what degree will the publication of your translation, with comments and notes, feed the debate on the limits of values in the use of science?
I think it is central nowadays. In fact, the problem of the condemnation the Church made of the Dialogue is that it did not condemn it for moral reasons, but attempted to condemn it for reasons of fact. The Church had every right, from the values, ethical, and religious standpoint, to try to establish controls over the application of science. What it cannot do is claim that such and such a thing cannot happen or is not true, because, as Galileo said: “We should not employ passages from the Scriptures in condemning theories and concepts that may turn out to be true”. Now, we can say that applying a theory should not perhaps be done regardless of ethical and moral values that are set out in the Scriptures. So, from this standpoint, the Church could legitimately have condemned it. But it did not do it that way: it tried to do it by saying that Copernicus’s theory was false.
In other words, the Church chose the wrong strategy.
Yes. And this mistake had very great repercussions, lasting even into the 21st century. Now, the great difficulty lies in knowing how to set limits to scientific research. So, I think that we will go on having the same problem, because we have no acceptable solution to it.
Galileo Galilei, Dialogue on the Two Maximum World Systems
Pablo Rubén Mariconda – FFLCH/USP