Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina: Genre, Coherence, and the Structure of Dispute

Galilaeana 1 (XVI):41-75 (2019)
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This paper proposes a reading of Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina as analogous to a legal brief submitted to a court en banc. The Letter develops a theory of the general issues underlying the case at hand, but it is organized around advocacy for a particular judgment. I have drawn two architectonic implications from this framework, each of which helps to resolve an issue still standing in the literature. First, the Letter anticipates varying degrees of acquiescence to its general account, and provides ‘hooks’ for different readers to interpret variously while still converging on the particular judgment. This reading allows for a coherent Galilean interpretation of passages that notoriously concede priority to Scripture, while also explaining their dialectical function. Galileo is neither self-contradictory nor dissimulating here, but strategically leaves the specification of key distinctions for the reader. Second, the Letter, and particularly its apparent shifting of the burden of proof, must be understood in light of the tripartite ‘adversarial-judicial’ framework that Galileo sets up. The burden of proof is shifted to anti-Copernicans within the Church, not as a rhetorical trick, but because of the benefits of adversarial procedure that will accrue to the Church as the responsible judge.

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Joseph Zepeda
Thomas Aquinas College


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