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regarded only as an obsolete astronomy. For it was not merely that men wondered how, if the sun did not move, Joshua could have commanded it to stand still; the Copernican theory contradicted the entire practical orientation that dominated the imagination and justified the plans of Christendom. Never in the history of European civilization has common sense been so comprehensive and so highly unified as it was in Galileo's day. That synopsis of heaven and earth which was the theme of Dante's Divine Comedy, and the fundamental thesis of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, was not an esoteric truth, but an illumination shared by common men, and revealing to them the objects of their daily hopes and fears. The earth was the centre of a compact and finite created world. It was prepared by the hand of God for man's habitation, and surrounded by sun, moon, and stars for his convenience and delight. God himself dwelt at the periphery of the system, where he could observe and regulate the human drama enacted at the centre. Man's fall and redemption were the very theme of nature, the key to its interpretation; and the earth as the scene of these transactions was its true centre.
Now let it be remembered that this image of nature was vividly present to the common mind, portrayed in every form of art, repeatedly implied in the postures of religious observance, and daily represented in common speech and gesture. And let it be remembered, furthermore, that this was an age in which secular and religious beliefs were not sharply divorced; when what men believed in particular was subordinated to what they believed on the whole, and when, in spite of a growing worldliness, men could never wholly forget the saving of their souls. Is it any wonder, then, that men were shocked when they heard it said that the earth moved, that it was only the loose swinging satellite of a sun that was but one of many suns? When the Christian imagination has never in the centuries that have followed been able entirely to adapt itself to a decentralized and infinite cosmos, with its limitless plurality of worlds, is it any wonder that a Christian of the early seventeenth century
should have been unable to face such a hypothesis? For a dozen centuries Europeans had been growing accustomed to the world of the Biblical and Ptolemaic imagination; this was for all practical purposes now their world, in which they had built their home and laid their plans, and which was endeared to them by every tradition and association. Surely, whatever the Inquisition may have been guilty of, it was not sheer brutality; for it was the instrument with which this age thought to protect itself and every good thing which it owned.
When I bring myself to feel the force of these considerations, I am convinced that the tragedy of Galileo is not so simple as is sometimes supposed. Neither he nor his accusers could have enjoyed an undivided mind. As they were not merely the wicked enemies of truth, so he was not merely a reckless iconoclast forced to keep silence from fear of physical torture. For both must have felt the conflict between loyalty to the existing order and assent to theoretical truth. The difference lay rather in the relative strength of the two motives. The officers of the church were in a position of responsibility; Galileo, in the quiet and isolation of the Belvedere, could free his mind from the thought of social consequences, while dealing with “natural effects brought under our eyes by the experience of our senses.”
After his first trial Galileo attempted to avoid the charge of disturbing the common belief, by publishing his astronomical studies in the form of "a Dialogue ... in which are discussed the two most important world-systems, without any decision being arrived at between them.” In these dialogues the merits of both systems are argued, with the result that, while the advocate of the traditional system is the nominal victor, the evidence for the Copernican system is actually more convincing to any one qualified to judge. This was undoubtedly an attempt
· Published in 1632. Cf. H. Höffding: History of Modern Philosophy, trans. by B. E. Meyer, Vol. I, p. 175.
to satisfy the general public by proclaiming in a loud voice, “The earth does not move," while at the same time whispering to his fellow-augurs, “but we know that it really does move." Galileo was by no means incapable of such a stroke, and it was their resentment at what they regarded as a bold trick that inspired Galileo's accusers with the bitterness which they manifested at his second trial. But taken in the light of the real conflict of motives which Galileo must have felt, and in the light of the policy pursued by other men by no means so witty and adroit as he, may we not believe that these dialogues were in part conceived as a serious attempt to reconcile theory and belief? Galileo was not a revolutionist, but he was jealous of his scientific reputation. He wished to be true to the standards of exact research and at the same time avoid disturbing the public peace. And so he proposed to regard his scientific conclusions as “hypothetical,” meaning that they were abstracted from belief. He thought that science might be permitted to go its own way, and freely entertain any idea that might recommend itself on purely theoretical grounds, provided that society could be protected from the premature attempt to put such ideas into practice. Society believes, the scientist affirms; they do so for different motives, and with different values at stake. It would be wise, then, to separate the theoretical and believing processes. They cannot, it is true, be absolutely separated, nor would that be desirable even if it were possible; but they can be regarded as different functions of society and prevented from directly interfering with one another.
$ 6. If I am mistaken in attributing such reflections as these to Galileo, there can at least be no doubt in the case
of Descartes. The news of Galileo's convicDescartes's Reconciliation tion in 1633 reached Descartes just as he was of Theory and in the act of publishing his De Mundo, in Belief
which he maintained the doctrine of the motion of the earth. Although, as Descartes himself afterwards affirmed, this doctrine was essential to his whole philosophy of nature, he at once abandoned the project. And when he returned to the topic in his Principles of Philosophy, he had found a way to reconcile his theory with the accepted belief. He defined motion as “the transporting of one part of matter or of one body from the vicinity of those bodies that are in immediate contact with it, or which we regard as at rest, to the vicinity of other bodies.”! Now, according to the Cartesian theory of planetary motion, the planet is embedded in a fluid which sweeps vortex-fashion round the sun. It follows that, while the vortex does move, the planet, in this case the earth, does not move, since it remains fixed in relation to the matter immediately adjacent to it.
Now why should Descartes attach importance to what we do not hesitate to call a quibble? Is it merely a proof of timidity and disingenuousness? Descartes was not, it is true, of the stuff of which martyrs are made; but he was nevertheless a man of more than average courage, and of eminent intellectual honesty. The explanation lies elsewhere. He did not pander to his age for purposes of private advantage; but he did sympathize with his age, and he did desire practically to identify himself with it. The motion of the earth meant to his age much what the abandonment of the institution of marriage or of the principles of democracy would mean to ours; it was a symbol of failure and of return to chaos. That Descartes was profoundly concerned at the conflict between theory and belief, between that intellectual freedom which was the condition of truth and that uniformity of sentiment which was the condition of social stability, is proved beyond doubt by the most personal of his writings, the famous Discourse on Method. There he concludes that just as when we propose to rebuild the house in which we live, we must nevertheless occupy some quarters while the work is going on, so it is necessary to believe practically, even when the 1 Descartes: Principles of Philosophy (1644), trans. by Veitch, p. 245.
theoretical judgment is suspended. Descartes proposes, therefore, to regulate his practice conformably to the opinions of those with whom he has to live. And since neither society nor the individual can make progress if they are forever examining the ground at their feet, he proposes for practical purposes to adhere steadfastly even to doubtful opinions, once they are adopted; "imitating in this the example of travellers who, when they have lost their way in a forest, ought not to wander from side to side, far less remain in one place, but proceed constantly towards the same side in as straight a line as possible, . . . for in this way, if they do not exactly reach the point they desire, they will come at least in the end to some place that will probably be preferable to the middle of a forest.” 1
Galileo and Descartes were divided against themselves through feeling the weight of two great human motives, rationalism and conservatism. Bruno, Campanella, Ramus, and Vanini, having identified themselves more uncompromisingly with the first of these motives, antagonized the second and were overwhelmed by it. The history of these six men testifies, not so much to the cruelty and duplicity of human nature, as to the almost unconquerable resistance of an idea which society has built into its foundations.
8 7. It may be inferred from the fate of these intellectual pioneers that established belief is capable of taking care of it
self. Without doubt there is a heavy inertia in The Natural Conservatism of belief, that saves it from being too easily overBelief. Present thrown. Not only are new ideas distrusted by Tendencies
those whose enterprises they threaten to discredit; but they have difficulty even in gaining access to the mind. They must always meet and overcome the charge of "absurdity" that bespeaks the settled habits of common sense. The author of the Religio Medici shows a charming indifference to the absurdities of his day. They are so remote from common sense that they may be tolerated without
1 Descartes: Discourse on Method (1637), trans. by Veitch, p. 25.