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The Trial of Galileo

2016-02-15 11:51  来源:   纠错

In the 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei, two worlds come into cosmic conflict. Galileo's world of science and humanism collides with the world of Scholasticism and absolutism that held power in the Catholic Church. The result is a tragedy that marks both the end of Galileo's liberty and the end of the Italian Renaissance.

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564——the same year that Shakespeare was born and Michelangelo died. From an early age, Galileo showed his scientific skills. At age nineteen, he discovered the isochronism of the pendulum. By age twenty-two, he had invented the hydrostatic balance. By age twenty-five, Galileo assumed his first lectureship, at the University of Pisa. Within a few more years, Galileo earned a reputation throughout Europe as a scientist and superb lecturer. Eventually, he would be recognized as the father of experimental physics. Galileo's motto might have been “follow knowledge wherever it leads us.”

At the University of Padua, where Galileo accepted a position after three years in Pisa, he began to develop a strong interest in Copernican theory. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs, a treatise that put forth his revolutionary idea that the Sun was at the center of the universe and that the Earth——rotating on an axis——orbited around the sun once a year. Copernicus' theory was a challenge to the accepted notion contained in the natural philosophy of Aristotle, the astronomy of Ptolemy and the teachings of the Church that the sun and all the stars revolved around a stationary Earth. In the half-century since its publication, however, Copernicus' theory met mostly with skepticism. Skeptics countered with the “common sense” notion that the earth they stood on appeared not to move at all——much less at the speed required to fully rotate every twenty-four hours while spinning around the sun.

Sometime in the mid-1590s, Galileo concluded that Copernicus got it right. He admitted as much in a 1597 letter to Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician who had written about planetary systems: “Like you, I accepted the Copernican position several years ago and discovered from thence the cause of many natural effects which are doubtless inexplicable by the current theories.” Galileo, however, continued to keep his thoughts to a few trusted friends, as he explained to Kepler: “I have not dared until now to bring my reasons and refutations into the open, being warned by the fortunes of Copernicus himself, our master, who procured for himself immortal fame among a few but stepped down among the great crowd.”

Galileo's discovery of the telescope in 1609 enabled him to confirm his beliefs in the Copernican system and emboldened him to make public arguments in its favor. Through a telescope set in his garden behind his house, Galileo saw the Milky Way, the valleys and mountains of the moon, and——especially relevant to his thinking about the Copernican system——four moons orbiting around Jupiter like a miniature planetary system. Galileo, a good Catholic, offered “infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.” Galileo began talking about his observations at dinner parties and in public debates in Florence, where he has taken up a new post.

Galileo expected the telescope to quickly make believers in the Copernican system out of all educated persons, but he was disappointed. He expressed his discouragement in a 1610 letter to Kepler: “My dear Kepler, what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the asp, have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope? What shall we make of this? Shall we laugh, or shall we cry?” It became clear that the Copernican theory had its enemies.

Galileo's first instinct was turn to acquiring more knowledge for those few open minds he was able to reach——disciples such as monk Benedetto Castelli. Galileo wrote to Castelli: “In order to convince those obdurate men, who are out for the vain approval of the stupid vulgar, it would not me enough even if the stars came down on earth to bring witness about themselves. Let us be concerned only with gaining knowledge for ourselves, and let us find therein our consolation.”

Soon, however, Galileo——flamboyant by nature——decided that Copernicus was worth a fight. He decided to address his arguments to the enlightened public at large, rather than the hidebound academics. He saw more hope for gaining support among businessmen, gentlemen, princes, and Jesuit astronomers than among the vested apologists of universities. He seemed compelled to act as a consultant in natural philosophy to all who would listen. He wrote in tracts, pamphlets, letters, and dialogues——not in the turgid, polysyllabic manner of a university pedant, but simply and directly.

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