Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy fo the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 8, "Interest in Invisible Things within the World"

Copernicus displaces the explanation for apparent movement of heavenly bodies. He attributed the movement in part (and completely, in the case of the distant stars) to the rotation of the earth itself. This eliminated the need for positing a sphere of fixed stars, but Copernicus himself did not dispense with the heavenly spheres and a finite world. Nor did he anticipate astronomical phenomena that were not visible to the naked eye but which would be revealed with mechanical assistance.

Thomas Digges is the first to set aside the system of heavenly spheres, and draws the implication that the world is not finite, that the stars that we see are just the visible ones among an infinite number, most of which are too far away to see. Identifies the space beyond vision with the realm reserved solely for God.

371: "Theology destroys itself by staking its claim on the finality of a consciousness of finitude. By emphasizing the inconsiderateness and relentlessness of absolute power with respect to man, it makes it impossible for the progress of theory to be neutral, for technical accomplishment to be a matter of indifference, in this historical zone. By laying claims to supposed boundaries and impossibilities, theology exposes itself fatally, as it had done and was to do with the proof of God's existence and with theodicy."

Galileo's discovery of new phenomena with the telescope demolishes the prejudice that everything in the world has already been given to unaided sight. It also brings one of the highest form of human activity -- contemplation of the heavens -- under the sway of technical knowledge of machinery. In so doing, it subverts the order of fixed and finite human knowledge; it leads to an expectation of further knowledge as the result of technical improvements; it historicizes astronomy.

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