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Cannon vs Aristotle Essay

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Updated: Feb 20th, 2019

The scientific revolution experienced during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries marked a completely new perspective in the approach to several theoretical and methodological approaches. Prior to this scientific revolution, most conventions were based on Aristotelianism, a fact that changed dramatically with the inclusion of scientific experimentation.

From that period on, the previously strongly held beliefs concerning nature and mathematics assumed a new direction of which Henninger-Voss refers to by the phrase, “shook up the Aristotelian cosmos” (371). One of the experiments that clearly did injustice to the Aristotelian cosmos was the cannon balls experiment. As this paper will point out, this experiment opened a new focal point in the world of mathematics, physics and natural sciences.

The Aristotelian conventions on matter and motion were built on two principles. They believed that the state of nature was dictated by abstract principles. They believed that mathematical descriptions could only be applied on heavenly bodies with aether as their movements were characterized by “perfect regularity” (Henninger-Voss 375).

This notwithstanding, the Aristotelians also argued that terrestrial bodies could not be mathematically described because their motions did not contain the perfect regularity characteristic of the heavenly bodies. They believed that the motions of terrestrial bodies were erratic.

In their perspective, terrestrial objects had only two options of motion. They either moved naturally in the quest to acquire their destined zones within the great universe or they moved as a result of a force exerted on them. This was the movement of inanimate objects. However, animate objects including animals and plants moved in response to their souls. The two causes of movements in the inanimate objects are therefore natural forces and violent forces.

Violent forces are results of deliberate application of force to alter the natural motion of the object by an animate object like a human being. For instance, a cannon ball would fall naturally towards the center of the earth through natural forces of gravity (which had not yet been explained by then). However, the motion of the cannon ball (which is inanimate) would be altered “violently” by man (an animate object) when he shoots it through the cannon.

Another generally accepted paradigm in the Aristotelian cosmos was the fact that inanimate objects moved in a rectilinear manner. Here, they believed that the natural and physical composition of an object dictated their direction and nature of motion. Objects that were heavy in nature automatically moved towards the center of the universe.

On the other hand, they believed that light objects would rise directly to the sphere of the moon. Given these perceptions, it is true to argue that the weight (heaviness and lightness) of an object greatly determined its characteristics of motion. They had a hypothesis, given their argument, that the heavier the object, the faster it would move towards the center of the universe.

This is what led to the generally accepted belief that a heavy object and a lighter object, if released from an identical distance from the earth under similar conditions, the heavier object would land first leaving the lighter one to land later. In fact, they precisely argued that an object half the weight of another would take twice as much time to land given a similar distance and similar conditions.

The scientific revolution in the sixteenth century led to a redefinition of several of these generally held beliefs. To begin with, the use of philosophy to determine motion and matter would be refuted in the new scientific approach. in the new approach, Tartaglia leads the pack in developing scientific approaches that would let matter and motion be analyzed from standards defined by mathematical precision.

In the new light, the aspects of lightness, heaviness, naturalness and violent forces which assume the central point of focus in the Aristotelian definitions of matter and motion become sidelined as new scientists continue to reconsider the stand.

The cannon balls experimentation leads to a new dawn of mathematical inclinations. While the Aristotelians placed most emphasis on the heaviness and lightness of an object to determine its projectile motion, the new science employed mathematical calculations to determine angular distances and estimations.

Battista Alberti, for instance identifies advanced mathematical tools like the “clever bombardier and the bombardier’s pendulum” which were mathematical instruments that were used in determining angular distances and elevation of artilleries in estimation.

Although most of the expertise in the field of war was a derivative of the past, the new science offered a mathematical explanation of the weaponry. While Aristotelianism argues that only heavenly bodies, given their precision and regularity could be used as a measure of time, Tartaglia, representing the new science argues that even terrestrial objects can be used to determine time. He employs the, “…construction of local trajectories of cannon balls” (Henninger-Voss 383) to determine time and distance.

A point of argument emanates here, though. Is the redefinition dictated by the new science a complete shake up of the Aristotelian concepts on matter and motion? Is it purely true that motion in terrestrial objects can also have perfect regularity and that the motion is not purely dependant on the intention or the “soul” of the innate object? According to Tartaglia, at a given inclination (which he clearly specifies as 45 degrees, a cannon can be thrown at the greatest distance.

He argues that the distance a cannon ball can be thrown depends on the operator’s ability to load the machine with the most appropriate proportions of gun powder and also his capability in distance calculation in addition to the angle of inclination. This, according to him is not dependent on the operator’s strength and will. It is purely mechanical and mathematical definitions that could remain constant if each and every of the variables remained constant. That is, there was a degree of regularity given a similarity in the variables.

The point of contention here is, are these purely outcomes of mathematics and physics or is there intension or violence (unnatural force) as argued by Aristotelianism? In my opinion, Aristotelianism cannot be absolutely rubbished. However much there is regularity as provided by mathematical precision, there is still the issue of animate exertion of deliberate pressure to divert natural movements of the inanimate objects.

The argument here is that while the new science, as argued by Tartaglia and Galileo, point out a perfect regularity in terrestrial objects hence refuting the Aristotelian claims, it is also necessary that the new science retains the facts that natural motions of inanimate objects is always towards the center of the universe as later proved by Isaac Newton.

Even if there is perfect regularity, the aspect of the “will of the soul” of the animate objects is still present. It will take a deliberate action by this animate object (A human being) to calculate the appropriate proportions of gunpowder and incline the machine at the right angle in order to gain the longest distance of the thrown cannon ball.

Works Cited

Henninger-Voss, Mary. “How the New Science of Cannons Shook up the Aristotelian Cosmos.” Journal of the History of Ideas 63.3 (2002): 371-397.

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