Socrates vs Galilei

Throughout time, history has woven for us two great men whose exemplary achievements helped shaped the foundations of modern science, mathematics and philosophy: Socrates and Galileo Galilei. Although they lived in two different worlds and eras (470-399BC and 1564-1642 AD, respectively), it is nevertheless impossible to note that they are in a way interwoven in both achievements and nature.

Perhaps their most common point of intersection is the very fact that they were firstly, philosophers in nature. Although much of our knowledge of Socrates is derived from what his most promising student, Plato, among others have revealed to us in his dialogues. It is, therefore, a sad thing to note that so great a man had not written nor published anything of himself or his philosophies. However, all things have their reasons. According to Hooker (1996) Socrates believed that knowledge was a living, interactive thing and therefore his method of philosophical inquiry was by means of questioning people on the positions they asserted and working them through questions into a contradiction, thus proving to them that their original assertion was wrong. In fact, he himself never takes a position skeptically claiming to know nothing at all except that he knows nothing (According to Plato in The Apology). The Socratic elenchus (self-examination) eventually gave rise to dialectic, the idea that truth needs to be pursued by modifying one’s position through questioning and conflict with opposing ideas (Hooker, 1996).

However, although Galileo was also a philosopher, the philosophical thread that ran through Galileo’s intellectual life was a strong and increasing desire to find a new conception of what constitutes natural philosophy and how natural philosophy ought to be pursued (Machamer, 2005). This paved the way for the scientific revolution. He was able to publish various books and materials on different subject matters. He was known as the “father of modern observational astronomy”(Singer,1941), the “father of modern physics”(Weidhorn, 2005), the “father of science”( Weidhorn, 2005) , and “the Father of Modern Science (Finocchiaro, 2007)”.

His famous discoveries included that of the Galilean Moons of Jupiter, the supernova explosion, and the sunspots found on the Sun’s surface. He was also a strong follower of Nicholas Copernicus in his belief that the Sun was the centre of the solar system.

At this point, we notice how both philosophers have differed. Socrates was a man of exceptional knowledge and philosophy, however, not one of his philosophies has reached today’s archive first hand. For someone who has changed the world in many ways, he has chosen not to leave us anything we could really call authentic. Galileo, on the other hand, as thus provided us many eye-openers concerning our world and have helped us understand the ways of nature preserved in his writings. His discoveries and studies have contributed much to present-day human knowledge and advancement.

Socrates is also commonly pictured as a religious figure as his philosophy tends to drive a way of living. Thus, he has been encumbered with the admiration and emulation normally reserved for founders of religious sects—Jesus or Buddha (Nails, 2005). On the other hand, Galileo is more of a scientific figure as he has fashioned a good deal of scientific and mathematic truths and laws which are currently being used as it is or otherwise as a foundation of much of the laws used in our days. And although he was a devout Roman Catholic, he was charged of heresy for supporting Copernicus’s claims of the sun being the centre of the universe and that the earth moved.

Another area of contrast is in the fact that Socrates was deeply involved in politics that according to Plato’s account, Socrates was in no way subtle about his particular beliefs on government. He openly objected to the democracy that ran Athens during his adult life (Wikipedia, 2006). He himself was put on trial for the reason of being involved in the oligarchy form of government implemented by the Spartans. When Democracy was restored he was placed on trial, which is interpreted by some scholars to be an expression of political infighting (Hooker, 1996), and then executed.

Our other philosopher seems to have little or no record at all of political interest, although according to Machamer (2006) he politically named the four moons circling Jupiter (now known as the Galilean Moons) as the Medicean stars (after the ruling family in Florence, his patrons). Beyond this, no record shows any other political patronage on his part.

Despite their differences, both these men have excelled in their different areas in life and have helped create who we are now at this present age. This goes to show that we are but standing on the shoulders of giants who have been inquisitive enough to learn more of life and way to live it.

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