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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 III. A Stationary Earth and the Forma Mundi Problem


← 66 | 67 → CHAPTER THREE


Let us return to the Preface and Copernicus’ analysis of the state of astronomy. The opening segment of the Preface is, in a way, a cross between the introductory sentences of the Commentariolus and the last paragraph of the Introduction. Astronomy is faced with two problems. The first is a specific astronomical problem: astronomy was so far incapable to “establish and observe a constant length […] for the tropical year.” The second, the more general of the two, is that astronomical theories contradict each other in regard to the principles they use in their attempts to describe the motions of the celestial bodies. There are two astronomical schools, each founded on different principles and assumptions: one which draws on the model of concentric spheres, another which applies the theory of eccentrics and epicycles. Both try to explain the same celestial phenomena by drawing on two conflicting theories. Copernicus writes:

Secondly, in determining the motions not only of these [celestial] bodies [i.e. the sun and the moon] but also of the other five planets, they do not use the same principles, assumptions, and demonstrations of the apparent revolutions and motions. For while some employ only homocentrics, others utilize eccentrics and epicycles, and yet they do not quite reach their goal.74

← 67 | 68 → The astronomical traditions contravene each other in their basic principles and are mutually exclusive by assuming either concentric or eccentric...

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