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1. Topics: Philosophy and History of Science [Prof. Marcacci, Vatican State]

Start Date:
22. June 2015, 09:00
Finish date:
22. June 2015, 09:45
MESHS - Espace Baïetto



For an Historical ontology of Science: Riccioli case-study and the Astronomy of XVII century


Abstract Course

The history of science uses formal methods to clarify its contents, but the historians do not agree about the methodology of this use: one of the questions is, for example, if reading the past with modern formalism is allowed, if it is, in which sense, and how an historian shall use modern formalism to interpret ancient texts. Thus, the history of science needs clearer methodological perspectives. Vice versa, philosophy of science needs the history of science to find realistically itself. Respectively, I mean, these are a top-down and a bottom-up aspects of the relationship between history and epistemology. Thus, history of science can be used not as a mere erudition exercise and epistemology can concretely improve any reasoning about science. With this aim, I go to study a particular case-study in the history of Astronomy of XVII century: Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598-1671), who proposed an original astronomical system as an intermediate solution between the Copernican and the Ptolemaic systems. Many scholars describe his system as “geocentric”, and Riccioli himself considers it to have a Ptolemaic inclination: but really, Riccioli uses the deeply Tychonic solution, adding a lot of differences – for instance the order of the orbits and the movement of Jupiter and Mars. In his astronomical work Riccioli is rigorous and serious and offers a great quantity of observational data. The analysis of these results is necessary to understand the real evolution of the Copernican question during the first half of the XVII century. We'll look at some general lines of Riccioli's system, to understand how an astronomer of the XVII century really worked and to understand which problems the Copernican system couldn't resolve. Finally, we'll try to consider some philosophical implications of this historical case. Firstly, how much and in which sense the Scientific Revolution can be understood in the Kuhnian sense that science does not progress via a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but with periodical revolutions. Secondly, if history of science reports just a gallery of images on the science or if it reports a knowledge about the ontology of the scientific objects. In other words, I inquire in which sense history can have an ontic space.



  • Hacking I (2002), Historical Ontology. Harvard UP, Cambridge (MA)
  • Marcacci F (2009), From the sky to maps: observation and theory of the heavens between the 16th and the 18th century. In: Marcacci F (ed.) Magna longeque ad mirabilia. Astronomia e cosmologia nel fondo antico della Biblioteca Beato Pio IX, F. C. Panini e Lateran UP, Modena – Vatican City, 24-52
  • Marcacci F (2015), Epistemology for the History of Science and the History of Science for Ontology. In: Alai, Buzzoni, Tarozzi (eds.), Between Truth and Ethical Responsibility. Evandro Agazzi in the Contemporary Scientific and Philosophical Debate. Springer, Dordrecht, forthcoming
  • Marcacci F (2015), La scelta, l’essere e la verità: uno spazio ontico per la storia. In: Gherri (ed.), Discernere e scegliere nella Chiesa. Atti della IX Giornata canonistica interdisciplinare, Città del Vaticano, 2015, forthcoming
  • Marcacci F (2013), Ptolemaic and Copernican globes in the XVII century: short remarks on the handbooks by Blaue and Bion, in Pisano R, Capecchi D, Lukešová A (eds), Physics, Astronomy and Engineering. Critical Problems in The History of Science. Proceedings of the 32th International Congress of the Italian Society of Historians of Physics and Astronomy. The Scientia Socialis Press, Siauliai.
  • Omodeo P D (2014), Copernicus in the cultural debates of the Renaissance: reception, legacy, transformation. Brill, Leiden-Boston