Tuesday, June 19, 2012


"How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech." (Søren Kierkegaard)

As an academic you have to understand the importance of orthodoxy, i.e., "right opinion". Much of what is known in a particular field is not questioned, or at least not openly. In the Catholic Church at the time of Galileo, it was possible to engage in inquiry that assumed (at least to make the math easier) that the Earth moved. (Thanks to Andrew for suggesting the work of J.L. Heilbron on this subject.) But it was not possible to openly reject the dogma that the Earth did not move. Such a strong heterodox position needed much more evidence than Galileo could muster, and the Church needed time to assess the consequences of what would become the "Copernican revolution", which, sure enough, had a profound impact on how we see ourselves and our place in the universe. Orthodoxy serves an important function in slowing down the pace of intellectual progress so that everyone can keep up. It does this by determining, not what you are allowed to think, but what you are allowed to say.


Andrew Shields said...

Did you get a hold of the Heilbron?

The other great thing I've read about Galileo is Brecht's play about him. Have you read or seen it?

Thomas said...

I haven't gotten the book yet, but the post links to an essay that was made from it.

Also, it turns out that I've met him. He was in Copenhagen in 2001 for a Symposium on Michael Frayn's play, and I remember him as one of the strongest contributors. He was moderating a session and I remember him saying that "history is the only academic field that still believes in causes".

I'm watching his Conversations with History interview right now

Thomas said...

The discussion of the Sun in the Church starts at 28:15