Robert S. Westman

in The Copernican Question

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780520254817
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948167 | DOI:

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Is the Earth motionless at the center of a finite, star-studded sphere, or is it a planet moving in an annual circuit around the center? Medieval scholastic natural philosophers debated all sorts of imaginative questions of this kind. According to the Pythagoreans, “the center is occupied by fire, and the Earth is one of the stars that creates night and day as it travels in a circle about the center.” Against Ptolemy and Aristotle, Nicolaus Copernicus sketched an alternative theory of gravity that retained the intelligibility of the latter's “natural,” “simple,” and “place” as the right categories in which to describe and explain motion. This book explores why Nicolaus Copernicus concerned himself about the order of the planets when the burgeoning late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth-century heavenly print literature, directed to learned elites and ordinary people alike, was overwhelmingly preoccupied with astrologically driven anticipations of the future, sometimes coupled with powerful apocalyptic fantasies that the world would soon come to an end.

Keywords: Earth; Ptolemy; Aristotle; Nicolaus Copernicus; gravity; motion; planets

Chapter.  15257 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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