Galileo on scientific explanation: his debt to and departure from Aristotle and his contributions to contemporary models
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Among the figures of the Scientific Revolution, Galileo was the most influential in moving science away from Aristotle’s concept of scientific explanation to what became Modern science. My primary goal in this thesis is to explicate Galileo’s concept of scientific explanation, as well as the metaphysical and methodological underpinnings relied upon by Galileo, and to investigate where these depart from Aristotle as well as the Aristotelians of Galileo’s time. Galileo’s most revolutionary scientific achievement was to advance a new, more practical aim for scientific inquiry: he changed the focus of scientific investigations to the measuring, modeling, and predicting of phenomena. In order to increase the reliability of his hypotheses Galileo rejected those aspects of Aristotle’s account of scientific explanation that could not be rigorously empirically justified. The result was that empirical science no longer searched for the essential attributes of bodies or for Aristotle’s causes such as the “final” cause. The identified contributions and innovations promulgated by Galileo are significant because they dictated changes that became formative to contemporary models of scientific explanation. I argue that analyses such as the one given in this dissertation can provide a framework for better understanding twentieth-century criticisms that argue that Aristotle’s concept of scientific explanation contained elements that are indispensable to genuine scientific explanations but that are missing from standard contemporary accounts such as Hempel’s covering law models. Finally, I conclude that my analysis of Galileo’s contributions to scientific explanation suggests that contemporary claims that covering law models should be more receptive to Aristotle’s ideas of causation and essence are misguided.
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