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Galileo's Assayer: Sense and Reason in the Epistemic Balance
AuthorSmith, James Adam
AdvisorMoran, Bruce T.
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Galileo’s The Assayer, published in 1623, represents a turning point in Galileo’s philosophicalwork. A highly polemic “scientific manifesto,” The Assayer was written afterhis astronomical discoveries of the moons of Jupiter and sunspots on a rotating sun,but before his mature Copernican work on the chief world systems (Ptolemaic versusCopernican). The Assayer included major claims regarding the place of mathematicsin natural philosophy and how the objects of the world and their properties canbe known. It’s in The Assayer that Galileo wades into the discussion about the ultimateconstituents of matter and light, namely, unobservable particles and atoms.Galileo stressed the equal roles that the senses and reason served in the discovery ofknowledge, in contradistinction to Aristotelian authoritarian dogma that he found tohinder the processes of discovery and knowledge acquisition. However, in his discussionabout the physical and mathematical nature of atoms, Galileo can be found toreach the epistemic limits of his methodology in paradoxical fashion. After providingsufficient historical and historiographical context in an effort to situate The Assayer,I argue that this limit is less of a problem for Galileo than may be thought at firstsight; for he was aware of this limit even if he didn’t clearly or fully articulate it inThe Assayer. Nevertheless, the epistemic balance in which the uses of Galileo’s ownsense and reason can be weighed are found to tip in favor of the latter.