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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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Chapter I. Uniform Circular Motion of Celestial Bodies

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← 36 | 37 → CHAPTER ONE

UNIFORM CIRCULAR MOTION OF CELESTIAL BODIES

In the Proemium or Introduction, Copernicus is not so much interested in disagreements among astronomers regarding the “principles and assumptions” of astronomy as he is in the incompatibility of astronomical data with actual observed celestial phenomena. These included the exact length of the tropical year and the related issue of determining the sun’s motion, which has always been “subject to different opinions.”

In fact, Copernicus has very specific reasons for emphasizing the problem of the determination of the exact length of the tropical year, some of which cropped up only after his completion of the Commentariolus. He does not mention the issue of the tropical year but only until after around 1514, when Paul of Middelburg (1446–1534) asked him to help with reform of the Julian calendar.13 Copernicus did not take part in it formally, but at the end of the Preface, he ← 37 | 38 → justifies De revolutionibus as his own contribution to calendar reform. This serves to further legitimize his introduction of the “absurd concept” of the earth’s motion in astronomy. In other words, Copernicus incorporated the issue of the length of the tropic year, and its necessity to the solution of calendrical reform, as part of a strategy to persuade the reader of his Introduction (and particularly the Preface) of the rationality of introducing the concept of the earth’s motion in astronomy. There is, in my opinion, one additional, and perhaps...

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