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The mathematicians' philosophy: early Italian perspectives on the intellectual appropriation of the mechanical arts

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In this talk I suggest that mathematicians’ early interest in philosophy was partly due to the need to understand the inventions of the mechanical arts. This theme is developed by discussing two rather different cases. Attention is first focused on the Renaissance physician and mathematician Girolamo Cardano, who in his works gave philosophical dignity to the mechanical arts, explained the working principles of their findings and developed new fields, such as the mathematical study of the motion of water. The second case concerns the theories of matter of Galileo Galilei and Domenico Guglielmini. Some scarcely considered aspects of these theories, such as Galileo’s quantification of the forces of cohesion of solids and liquids through the measurement of the force of void and Guglielmini’s mechanistic views on the process of aggregation of salt particles in aqueous solutions, indicate that engineering experimentation in the field contributed in a determining way to the development of the new sciences and that mathematics’ share in the corpuscular philosophy was greater than is usually thought.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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