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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 XI. Astronomy before Copernicus


← 240 | 241 → CHAPTER ELEVEN


In order to answer to all these questions, we must reverse the familiar convention. Instead of looking at Copernicus through Galileo’s occhiale and the prism of his own Copernicanism, interests and struggles, we shall examine him through the eyes of his contemporaries, against the backdrop of late medieval and Renaissance astronomy and philosophy. An excellent starting point is the work of two outstanding astronomers of the fifteenth century, Georg Peurbach, and his student and colleague, Johannes Müller, known as Regiomontanus. A cross-section of their works reveals what astronomy was like when Copernicus was a student, as well as four major elements that help illuminate his project of the restoration of astronomy:

(1) high quality of mathematical astronomy, coupled with some (sometimes rather severe) criticism of Ptolemy and awareness of the achievements of the Muslim astronomers;

(2) ultimate understanding of the motions of the celestial objects as a result of the motions of real three-dimensional orbs;

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