In the ten years following the publication of Galileo Galilei's Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche intorno a due nuove scienze (1638), the new science of motion was intensely debated in Italy, France and northern Europe. Although Galileo's theories were interpreted and reworked in a variety of ways, it is possible to identify some crucial issues on which the attention of natural philosophers converged, namely the possibility of complementing Galileo's theory of natural acceleration with a physical explanation of gravity; the legitimacy of Galileo's methods of proof and of his theory of the composition of continuous magnitudes; and the adequacy of the experimental evidence in favor of his theory.

Through his published works and his correspondence, Marin Mersenne contributed in a significant way to each of these discussions. In the following, I shall provide a sketch of Mersenne's multiple engagement with the new science of motion, while trying to account for his growing skepticism concerning Galileo's law of free fall. Whereas in the 1630s, Mersenne still firmly believed in the validity of this law and tried to devise experimental and mathematical proofs in its favor, in the 1640s he developed serious doubts regarding the possibility of constructing an exact science of motion. As we shall see, Mersenne's evolving attitude sheds an interesting light on his views concerning the relation between physics and mathematics.

This content is only available as a PDF.