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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 IX. The Dialectics and Physics of the Earth’s First Motion

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← 154 | 155 → CHAPTER NINE

THE DIALECTICS AND PHYSICS OF THE EARTH’S FIRST MOTION

Copernicus presents some fundamental traditional philosophical arguments against the moving earth (or, in other words, in favor of its rest), in Chapter 7 of Book I of De revolutionibus. He refutes these arguments to show that it is more probable that the earth moves than that it is at rest and that this is especially true of the daily rotation as particularly appropriate to the earth in Chapter 8. This is also his response to Giese’s questions presented by Rheticus in the “Encomium Prussiae” of the Narratio prima: Is the centre of the earth really the true centre of the universe?; Is circular motion attributed to the earth necessarily violent?; Can Aristotle’s three motions – away from the centre, towards the centre, and around the centre – actually be separated?; and finally: Are other reasons that led Aristotle to refute the opinions of Plato’s Timaeus and the Pythagoreans sound?76 Arguments presented in Chapter 8 have often been categorized as dialectical or rhetorical, or at least not very demonstrative.77 However, before I turn to Copernicus’ response to Aristotelian, philosophical objections to the rotation of the earth, that is, to Copernicus’ own, alternative theory of gravity and ← 155 | 156 → elemental motion, as well as to another three positive arguments in favor of the earth’s rotation from Chapter 8, I will first shed some additional light on his discourse in Chapters 7 and 8 by analyzing his...

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