Galileo and the Scientific Revolution: The Importance of His Kinematics

John Henry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article draws attention to the importance of kinematics for Galileo's own enterprise and for his impact on the subsequent pursuit of natural philosophy. Although often implicit in assessments of Galileo's achievement, kinematics has never properly been recognised as a major element in Galileo's attempts to develop a new and more fruitful way of doing natural philosophy. By focussing on the way Galileo tries to explain physical phenomena solely in terms of bodies in motion, the article is intended to mark a beginning to redressing this. It is argued that the numerous attempts by natural philosophers to develop alternative philosophical systems to replace the increasingly untenable Aristotelian system tended to concentrate on developing occult qualities and other aspects of the occult sciences. Although some of these won over significant numbers of followers, and therefore could be said to have had limited influence, none of them came close to replacing Aristotelianism. The problem was that none of them could offer readily intelligible and convincing explanations of physical phenomena. Galileo repudiated all occultist attempts to replace Aristotleianism and offered instead an entirely kinematic philosophy in which nothing more mysterious than motion was invoked. Although he failed to develop a complete system, it is argued that in the Dialogo and the Discorsi Galileo did enough (in spite of the significant problems which he never managed to solve) to persuade contemporary natural philosophers, even those unused to his mathematical approach, that his kinematic physics was the most promising way to proceed
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-36
Number of pages34
JournalGalilaeana: Journal of Galilean Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


  • kinematics
  • motion
  • acceleration
  • theory of the tides
  • circular inertia
  • gravity
  • occult philosophies

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