Reflections on Descartes and Galileo

posted on September 7th, 2015

I've been reading a lot of Descartes and Galileo. In order to preserve my thoughts I want to record some short reflections. These aren't meant to be complete or fully accurate.


In the period before The Enlightenment new knowledge was supported by ancient texts. These texts could be religious (e.g. biblical) or secular (e.g. Euclid's Elements). However, a new generation of thinkers began to question this historical epistemology when their own observations differed from recorded knowledge. Using experiments, they began to, brick by brick, create new narratives to explain reality and man's place in it.


Prior to the 16th and 17th century natural phenomena were believed to be largely meta-physical in origin. That is, they were caused by the whims of heavenly beings that lived outside of our existence. These beings could be influenced, allowing some control over nature and fortune, but ultimate control still rested in the heavens. This belief changed, though, as various earthly causes were discovered for previously heaven caused phenomena.


Another tenant of reality discovered in this period was the predictability of nature. When gods were believed to intercede in affairs of nature it was never known for sure what would happen. Now that root causes were being found though people were also discovering that these causes always resulted in the same outcomes. The nature of reality was more akin to a carefully created watch than to a deliberating jury.