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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 Three. Copernicus in Context


← 236 | 237 → PART THREE


← 238 | 239 → Analysis of Copernicus’ argumentation in Book I of De revolutionibus led us through the “optical argument” and refutation of Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s reasons for the stationary earth to Chapter 10, where the motion of the earth around the sun was made a key element for the establishment of the harmonious universe. We have seen that Copernicus’ main concern was not the earth’s daily rotation but its circular movement around the sun. With the heliocentric arrangement of planetary spheres Copernicus solves his principal objection to Ptolemaic astronomy: its incapability to establish the form of the world and certain symmetria of its parts. A heliocentric universe enables Copernicus not only to “save the appearances” but also to determine the order of the planetary spheres in such a manner that heaven is, as he maintains in the Preface, so “linked together that in no portion of it can anything be shifted without disrupting the remaining parts and the universe as a whole.”1 Thus Copernicus' system fulfills two tasks: provides models which account for the celestial appearances and establishes the harmony of the entire universe.

Now it is time to consider why Copernicus expanded the task of astronomy to include not only “saving the appearances” but also the philosophical question of the order of the universe. What was the question he was trying to answer? What were the motives for such reform of astronomy? Was his...

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