Thursday, March 05, 2015

William Wallace, OP (1918-2015)

Fr. William Wallace died on March 3, at age 96. Fr. Wallace was a very important, and occasionally controversial, historian and philosopher of science. He taught at the University of Maryland. Among his notable publications:

The Scientific Methodology of Theodoric of Freiberg: A Case Study of the Relationship Between Science and Philosophy. (1959)

Galileo's Early Notebooks: The Physical Questions: A Translation from the Latin, with Historical and Paleographical Commentary. (1977)

Prelude to Galileo: Essays on Medieval and Sixteenth-Century Sources of Galileo's Thought. (1981)

Galileo and His Sources: The Heritage of the Collegio Romano in Galileo's Science. (1984)

Galileo, the Jesuits and the Medieval Aristotle. (1991)

Galileo's Logic of Discovery and Proof: The Background, Content, and Use of His Appropriated Treatises on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. (1992)

Galileo's Logical Treatises: A Translation, With Notes and Commentary, of His Appropriated Latin Questions on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. (1992)

The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis. (1996)

When I was in grad school, I heard an interesting talk by him on the history of measurement, namely, the development of 'per'. That is, how do we get from measuring things in terms like "five miles in an hour" to saying that someone is going, right now, "five miles per hour"? Or, to put it in other terms, we all know what the unit "mile" is, and what the unit "hour" is, but what is the unit "mile per hour"? The latter kind of unit is actually surprisingly late. For a very long time people resisted the notion that these hybrid units were proper units; they were very often taken to be calculating conveniences rather than measures of anything real.

His conclusions were sometimes controversial, but his work is absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the thought of Galileo. His major work, The Modeling of Nature, is also essential reading for anyone interested in broadly scholastic and Aristotelian approaches to science and the natural world.

(The above video is a preview of a course he taught through International Catholic University, based on The Modeling of Nature and his summary reference work, The Elements of Philosophy; you can see the quite developed and informative notes for the course as well.


  1. Ye Olde Statistician9:42 AM

    The Modeling of Nature is a most excellent book and does a fine job of translating Aristotle into modern terms, incorporating modern scientific discoveries.

    I have not read his works on Galileo.

  2. branemrys10:10 AM

    They are all good, although they are mostly dealing with various technical issues. The discussions of Galileo in The Modeling of Nature are basically very general summaries of things he looks at in much more detail and with much more evidential support and interaction with Galileo scholarship in the Galileo books. (What makes The Modeling of Nature his major work is that it is essentially a summary for the general public of his entire career of work in history and philosophy of science.)


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