PHIL 3710: Honors History and Philosophy of Science, Part 1: from Aristotle to Galileo

Dr. Timothy McGrew, Fall 2012


Required and Supplementary Texts: The following texts are required:


McGrew, Alspector-Kelly, and Allhoff, eds., The Philosophy of Science: An Historical Anthology, hereafter abbreviated as PS


Galileo Galilei, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, hereafter abbreviated as Dialogue


Additional reading may be handed out in class or made available online at the course webpage: 2012.htm


In addition, material will be presented in class lectures that is unavailable in any other form. All of this additional material is fair game for tests and quizzes.


The readings for each week sometimes contain supplementary reading that may be useful but is not required. The principal sources for this reading are:


Carl Boyer, The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development (1959)


I. Bernard Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics, 2nd ed. (1985)


Michael Crowe, Theories of the World from Antiquity to the Copernican Revolution, 2nd ed. (2001)


Samuel Sambursky, The Physical World of the Greeks (NY: Collier, 1956)


Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens (1999)


All of these books are available in the Waldo Library.


Course Description: This course is an exploration of themes in the history and philosophy of science, with special attention to the life and work of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler and Galileo. Beginning with the necessary background in the physics and astronomy of Aristotle, we will study the development of the modern view with an eye to the conceptual and epistemological problems encountered in the transition to the new physics and astronomy, culminating with a close reading of most of Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. In order to keep the course within manageable bounds, we will focus primarily on astronomy and dynamics, though there will be interesting sidelights thrown on mathematics as well as biology, chemistry and other branches of science.


Course Requirements: This course meets Tuesday and Thursday of each week from 2:00 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. except for the days noted on the course schedule. I expect you to arrive on time; a pattern of late arrival will be reflected in your course grade. Late assignments cannot be made up without a medical excuse except in very unusual situations. Because important material for papers and quizzes may be presented in class lecture that cannot be found elsewhere, it is imperative that you come to class and take careful notes. You are responsible to obtain notes from another student in the class if you miss a day.


Attendance and quality (but not necessarily quantity) of class participation are taken into account in the determination of the final grade. In particular, I reserve the right to subtract five points from the final grade for each unexcused absence beyond the third.


There is a fair amount of reading assigned for this course. This includes a large number of primary sources—documents that were written by philosophers and scientists to describe their speculations and experiments rather than simplifications written by journalists or popularizers. These are the documents from which the history of science is constructed. Most of them do not require specialized knowledge beyond the occasional use of a bit of geometry or high school algebra, but they do require concentration. Students are expected to come to class having already done the reading indicated on the syllabus and may be subjected to unannounced quizzes on that material.


General Education: This course may be used to satisfy General Education Area VII (Natural Science and Technology).


Electronic Devices: The use of electronic communications and media devices, including but not limited to CD players, iPods, handheld games, cell phones, and laptop computers, is forbidden during class time. Digital or tape recording devices may be used to record class lectures and discussion with the permission of the instructor. Cell phones must be turned off. If your cell phone rings during class, you will be required—without answering it—to speak for five minutes regarding the assigned reading for the day, and the quality of your presentation will be taken into account in the determination of your final grade for the course.


Academic Integrity: You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the academic policies and procedures in the Undergraduate Catalog ( that pertain to student rights and responsibilities. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity, and computer misuse. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.


Accommodation for disabilities: Any student with a documented disability (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) who needs to arrange reasonable accommodations must contact the disability office at 387-2116 at the beginning of the semester. I am not allowed to make any accommodations for disability until you have obtained appropriate documentation from this office.


Assignment Weight Breakdown: The various components of the course will count toward your final grade according to the following weights:


Best Essay Score:


Other Essay Scores:

0.40 (0.20 each)

Reading Questions

0.40 (0.10 each)


A moment’s calculation will show that these weights add up to 1.05 (105%) rather than 1.00. This provision builds in a small measure of extra credit. In addition, each student’s best exam score is given slightly more weight than the other two scores. There will be no other opportunities for extra credit.


Grading Scheme: All assignments will be graded on a 4 point scale—that is, from 0 to 4 inclusive. While there is great variability in the qualities that make for a particular grade on a given assignment, the following guidelines will give you some idea of how the scale works:


A 4 indicates a performance of exceptional quality. The student has not only demonstrated mastery of all the material necessary to complete the assignment but also presented it clearly. The writing is at a high standard.


A 3 typically indicates a consistently strong performance, though the work may be lacking in some details or in a particular aspect of the assignment or may suffer from occasional substandard writing.


A 2 typically indicates minimal satisfactory performance. The student has demonstrated some understanding of the core concepts, but there are significant errors, gaps in comprehension, or flaws in the writing.


A 1 typically indicates an insufficient performance. The student has demonstrated a small amount of understanding, but there are serious deficiencies in the work submitted.


A 0 indicates a performance that has failed to demonstrate even a rudimentary understanding of the material on which the assignment is based or has failed to exhibit even the most elementary writing skills.


A score of -4 indicates that the student did not complete the assignment or did not complete the assignment in a minimally reasonable manner. (Anyone who makes an honest effort to complete an assignment will find it very difficult to earn this score.)


Grades somewhere between two of the above marks may be given if, in my judgment, the work falls somewhere between two of the levels above.


The following grading scale will be used for this course:


≥ 3.75

A (93-100)


C (73-77.9)


BA (88-92.9)


DC (68-72.9)


B (83-87.9)


D (60-67.9)


CB (78-82.9)

< 0.75

E (< 60)


As noted above, I reserve the right to give a negative score (as low as -4) for assignments not submitted or submitted but done in a manner demonstrating less than reasonable effort.


Instructor Contact Information:


Email (best): timothy [dot] mcgrew [at] wmich [dot] edu

Phone (269) 387-4364 (office).


Course Schedule


The following schedule is tentative. Because the material is difficult, some of it may take longer than the indicated time. You are expected to do the readings in accordance with the sequence of topics even if we are off schedule. Any alterations in exam dates will be announced in class ahead of time.


Readings must be done, and assignments must be completed, before the date indicated; that is, you should come to class having done the reading and completed the assignments for that day. Videos are optional unless otherwise stated.


Some of the links for handouts will not become visible until the appropriate time in the semester. You should check the web address at least weekly. If a link is not working for you and you think that it should be, you should email me immediately.



Course Schedule for Honors HPS 1, Fall 2012



Handouts, Readings, and Videos




The relation between history of science and philosophy of science. The Victorian view of pre-modern science. 





Atomism: The background to Aristotle. The theory of the elements. Democritus’s cone paradox.



PS, Part I Intro, sections 1-3 (pp. 5-8)


PS, Unit I Intro, sections 1-4 (pp. 13-18)


Primary Sources:


Diogenes Laertius, Atoms and Empty Space, PS 1.1


Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus, PS 1.2


Lucretius, The Explanatory Power of Atomism, from De Rerum NaturaPS 1.11


Secondary Sources:


Handout on the four elements


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, ch. 2


* Sambursky, The Physical World of the Greeks, 180-2 (cone paradox)


* Boyer, The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development,  chs. 1-2




Aristotle’s cosmology: The potency of place; plenism and the critique of the atomist theory of the void. 

Primary Sources:


Aristotle, the potency of place, Physics IV, 1 and 12


Aristotle, critique of the notion of a void, Physics IV, 6-8


Aristotle, “The Cosmos and the Shape and Size of the Earth,” from On the Heavens II, 4 ff, PS 1.8


Secondary Sources:


Butterfield on the Aristotelian system as it came into the middle ages, from The Origins of Modern Science, 29-36


* Cohen on pre-Copernican astronomy, The Birth of a New Physics, 24-35

RQ #1 Due: Butterfield



The shape, size, and structure of the earth in the Aristotelian system.

Primary Sources:

Aristotle, “The Cosmos and the Shape and Size of the Earth,” from On the Heavens II, 4 ff, PS 1.8


Secondary Sources:


Butterfield on the Aristotelian system as it came into the middle ages, from The Origins of Modern Science, 29-36


* Cohen on pre-Copernican astronomy, The Birth of a New Physics, 24-35




Aristotelian cosmology: the size and structure of the heavens.

Primary Sources:


Eudoxus on the structure of the heavens, in Aristotle, Metaphysics XII, 8


Sosigenes objecting that Eudoxus’s  spheres do not save the phenomena, in Simplicius, Commentary on Aristotle’s De Caelo





Secondary Sources:


C. S. Lewis on the size and structure of the medieval cosmos, in The Discarded Image, 97-9


* Archimedes on the size of the heavens, The Sand Reckoner, relaying the ideas of Aristarchus


* Crowe, Theories of the World, chs. 1 & 2

Essay #1 Due: Ancient and Medieval Views on the Size and Shape of the Earth



Aristotle’s dynamics. Motion as derivative and communicated by contact.

Primary Sources:


Aristotle on natural motionDe Caelo I, 2-3


[Reading Questions on De Caelo I, 2-3]


Aristotle, fragments from De Caelo and Physics 


[Reading Questions on fragments from De Caelo and Physics]




Natural motion and the question of explanation; the Aristotelian proportion.

Primary Sources:


Aristotle on the proportion between force and motionPhysics VII, 5; cf De Caelo 273b30-274a2


[Reading Questions on Physics VII, 5]


Aristotle on ballistic motion and air, Physics IV, 8 (This is a passage we have already encountered in the course of the critique of the void, but it is historically crucial because of the difficulties that ballistic motion presents for Aristotle’s theory of motion.)


* Aristotle, Physics VIII, 9, 265a, on the primacy of circular motion, quoted at length in Sambursky, The Physical World of the Greeks, 109-10


Secondary Sources:


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, ch. 3


* Cohen on Aristotle’s Physics, The Birth of a New Physics, chs. 1 and 2


* Boyer on conceptions of infinity and the technique of exhaustion in antiquity, The History of the Calculus, 14-48




The Ptolemaic system: epicycles, eccentrics, and equants. 



PS, Unit I Introduction, sections 5-6 (pp. 18-20)


Primary Sources:


Ptolemy, Almagest I, 3, 4, 6, 7, PS  1.12


[Reading Questions on Ptolemy’s Almagest]




The scientific case against a moving earth. Criticisms of the Ptolemaic system

Maimonides against the reality of epicycles and eccentrics, from Guide of the Perplexed II, 24, PS 1.16


Buridan denies the reality of epi-cycles but affirms that of eccentricsQuestions on the Metaphysics of Aristotle XII, questions 10-11


Secondary Sources:


* Crowe, Theories of the World, ch. 3


* Toulmin and Goodfield on Aristotle and Ptolemy, The Fabric of the Heavens, chs. 4 and 5




Aristotle from late antiquity to the high middle ages: critiques and modifications. The rise of impetus theory in John  Philoponus. The condemnation of 1277. 

Primary Sources:

Philoponus criticizes Aristotle’s position on ballistic motion, PS 1.14


[Reading Questions on Philoponus on ballistic motion]


Philoponus criticizes Aristotle’s position on free fall, PS 1.15


[Reading Questions on Philoponus on free fall]


Buridan on the theory of impetus, PS 1.17


* Tempier, Condemnation of 1277, selections, in Grant 45-9




The conceptual clarification of a heliocentric model in  Buridan and Oresme. The Merton school and the clarification of accelerated motion.

Oresme on the possibility of a rotating earth, PS 1.18


* Heytesbury articulates the mean speed rule developed at Merton College, OxfordRules for Solving Sophisms


* Oresme on the proof of the mean speed ruleTreatise on the Configur-ation of Qualities and Motions III, vii, 251-3

Essay #2 due: Medieval views of a moving earth



The achievement of Copernicus

Primary Sources:


Cardinal Schonberg, Letter to Copernicus


Secondary Sources:


* Crowe, Theories of the World, 82-99


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, 169-80


* Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics, ch. 3


* Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science, 36-48




The question of realism.  Osiander’s unsigned preface.

Osiander, Unsigned Letter to the Reader, PS 2.2


Copernicus, On the Revolutions, Preface and book I, PS 2.3


RQ #3 due: Copernicus



The gradual acceptance of the Copernican system. The “Golden Chain” argument. 

Primary Sources:


Selected reactions to Copernicus:  Appreciation of the “Golden Chain” argument by advocates (Rheticus,  Maestlin, Kepler, Galileo) and opponents (Gemma Frisius, Praetorius, Tycho)


Rheticus, the nature and grounds of the Copernican system, PS 2.1


Thomas Kuhn, an unsympathetic evaluation of the “Golden Chain” argument, from The Copernican Revolution, 178, 180-1




Empirical problems with Copernicus’s model. Tycho Brahe: his observations and his compromise. The nova of 1572 and the comet of 1577.

Primary Sources:


Tycho Brahe, De Nova Stella PS 2.4


Secondary Sources:


* Crowe, Theories of the World, ch. 7


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, 182-9




Kepler’s achievements. The Cosmographical Mystery: cosmology as geometry. Kepler’s  use of Tycho’s data. 

Secondary Sources:


* Crowe, Theories of the World, ch. 8


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, 198-209


* Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics, 127-47


* Gerald Holton, “Johannes Kepler’s Universe: Its Physics and Metaphysics,” in Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought (Harvard University Press, 1973), 69-90


* N. R. Hanson on the nature of Kepler’s reasoning regarding the orbit of Mars, Patterns of Discovery


* Koyre on Kepler’s rejection of a physically infinite universe, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1957), 58-87


* R. Westfall, The Construction of Modern Science (Cambridge University Press, 1971), 3-16




The great retroduction: On the Motion of Mars. Kepler’s defense of realism in astronomy. The unification of astronomy and physics.

Primary Sources:


Kepler, selections from correspond-ence and works, PS 2.5


Kepler, on arguments about a moving earth, PS 2.6


Kepler, on eight minutes of arc, PS  2.7


Secondary Sources:


Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers, excerpt online




Galileo’s telescopic discoveries and their impact on Copernicanism. 

Primary Sources:


Galileo on the moon and the satellites of Jupiter, Siderius Nuncius


Secondary Sources:


* Crowe, Theories of the World, ch. 9


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, 189-98


* Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics, ch. 4






Reception of the telescope among astronomers and theologians.

Primary Sources:


Martin Horky’s letter to Kepler, April, 1610


Secondary Sources:


* James Lattis, Between Copernicus and Galileo. Full of fascinating information about the astronomer  Clavius, a traditionalist whose life overlapped significantly with that of Galileo

Essay #3 due: Advising the Pope



Galileo the polemicist. Controversies with Scheiner and Grassi. Galileo’s conceptual defense of the new astronomy. 

Primary Sources:


Galileo, Excerpts from The AssayerPS 2.8


Galileo, Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, excerpts




The Dialogue: Dedicatory letter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany; letter to the discerning reader. The “Galileo affair.”

Primary Sources:


Galileo, Dialogue, 3-7


Secondary Sources:


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, 218-21


* Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics, ch. 5


* Finocchiaro, Galileo on the World Systems, 1-69. An outstanding thumbnail sketch of the significance of Galileo’s Dialogue and the trial of Galileo


* Finocchiaro, Retrying Galileo. An annotated guide to the primary source documents pertaining to the trial of Galileo


* Ronan, Galileo. An accessible bio-graphy of Galileo, including pictures of many of the major figures in the drama





Natural motion and Aristotle’s logic; heavenly changes and Aristotle’s empiricism; human and divine understanding.

Primary Sources:


Galileo, Dialogue, 3-66; 113-21.


Secondary Sources:


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, 210-27


* Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics, 81-126


* Drake and Drabkin, eds., Mechanics in Sixteenth Century Italy


November 21-25: Thanksgiving Break



The role of Aristotle’s authority; rotation, simplicity, and probability; the case against terrestrial rotation.

Primary Sources:


Galileo, Dialogue, selections from the second day, 123-73


Secondary Sources:


* Toulmin and Goodfield, The Fabric of the Heavens, 228-249




Vertical fall, superposition of motions, and the role of experiments.





The deception of the senses and the relativity of motion; heliocentrism and the telescope.

Primary Sources:


Galileo, Dialogue, 288-98; 370-95

RQ #4 due: Galileo



Stellar dimensions and the concept of size; stellar parallax.

Primary Sources:


Galileo, Dialogue, 416-32


December 10-14: Final Examination Week