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Copernicus: Platonist Astronomer-Philosopher

Cosmic Order, the Movement of the Earth, and the Scientific Revolution

Matjaz Vesel

In 1543, Copernicus publicly defended geokinetic and heliocentric universe. This book examines why and how he became a Copernican and what his affirmation of heliocentrism means in the context of the Scientific Revolution. Close reading of Copernicus’ texts and examination of his sociocultural context reveals his commitment to the Platonist program of True Astronomy, which is to discover the well-proportioned, harmonious universe, hidden beyond visible appearances, but accessible through mathematical reasoning. The principal goal of the work is to show that the hypothesis of Copernicus’ Platonism brings unity and internal coherence to his project and provides historical background of his contributions to the Scientific Revolution.
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Part One. The Motion of the Earth: A Solution to the Problems of Astronomy


← 30 | 31 → PART ONE


← 32 | 33 → Why does Copernicus need the earth’s motion? What benefit can he derive from a concept against which the “consensus of many centuries” speaks so clearly and convincingly as he himself states in the Dedication to the Pope or Preface to De revolutionibus? What does he mean by claiming that it is possible “to ascertain whether more firm demonstrations than those [of my predecessors]” – or “the teachers of mathematics in the schools” – “could be found for the revolution of the celestial orbs on the assumption of some motion of the earth”1?

In the same – his last – text, written in June 1542,2 Copernicus recognizes the existing problems of astronomy as the main impulse for seeking “a different explanation of the revolutions of the spheres of the universe,” one that would be based on the concept of the earth’s motion. His thesis, that the earth moves whereas the sun is at rest in the centre of the universe, is according to his own presentation of the genesis of heliocentric astronomy a response to the troubled state of astronomy that results from the discord among astronomers. The latter manifests itself in two ways. First, the astronomers disagree in their investigations ← 33 | 34 → to determine the exact length of the tropical year, and second, they fail to use the same principles, assumptions, and demonstrations:


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