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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 VI. The Earth is a Terraquea Sphaera

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← 118 | 119 → CHAPTER SIX

THE EARTH IS A TERRAQUEA SPHAERA

At the end of Chapter 4 of Book I of De revolutionibus, Copernicus sets forth the need to examine “the relation of the earth to the heavens” so as not to “attribute to the celestial bodies what belongs to the earth,” that is, not to attribute to the heavens the motion which, he believes, belongs to the earth. He has dedicated the first three chapters of the book to demonstrations to prove the universe is spherical like the earth (one of the arguments for the spherical form of the universe is “that all the separate parts of the universe, I mean the sun, moon, planets and stars, are seen to be of this shape”),8 and that element earth forms a single sphere with water. Given that the structure of Book I of De revolutionibus – very roughly – imitates that of Book I of Ptolemy’s Almagest,9 the first two chapters are somewhat expected, addressing the same questions as Ptolemy’s Chapters 3 and 4 and furnishing several standard arguments in support of both generally accepted theses. In Chapter 3, entitled How earth Forms a Single Sphere with Water, however, Copernicus diverges from Ptolemy’s Almagest and begins to prepare the ground for setting the earth in motion about its axis and pulling it into circular motion around the sun. The chapter ends with two conclusions: (1) “that land and water together press upon a single centre of gravity;...

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