How Radical Was Copernicus? Essay

988 words - 4 pages

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Richard EhlertJanuary 23, 2009Professor StolzenbergHistory 136How Radical was Copernicus?Many people think of Copernicus as a radical scientist who shocked the world by claiming that the sun was the center of the universe. Although Copernicus rejected some of the traditional beliefs of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Ptolemaic astronomy, he was still strongly rooted in these schools of thought and they were extremely important to his work. Copernicus rejected certain ideas of Ptolemaic astronomy in order to strengthen and improve the central principles, not to revolutionize them. Copernicus attempted to continue, preserve, and build upon the classical work of Ptolemy, not destroy it. Copernicus was in many ways more radical than many members of the academia, but he was not one of the true radicals of the Scientific Renaissance.Just like all scholars of his time, Copernicus was taught and studied the classics. The classics were mainly collections of the ancient writings of Greek philosophers, including Aristotle, who was one of the central classical thinkers and philosophers of the time. Aristotle and his followers created a way of thinking and studying based on observation, which was known as natural philosophy. This natural philosophy was not based on experimentation, and was more concerned with the "why" and not the "how" of things. That is to say that Aristotle was more interested that all of the planets rotated around earth because earth was the center of the universe, and did not care so much about the mechanisms which made the planets rotate.One way in which Copernicus can be viewed as radical compared to the natural philosophers of the time was in his way of going about his studies. Aristotelian natural philosophers based their beliefs on observations and their knowledge of common truths. One of the common truths was that the earth was the center of the universe and everything orbited around the earth with uniform circular motion (Dear, Revolutionizing the Sciences, 19). Since many astronomers of the time used this form of study, no one thought to change the belief in geocentricism or uniform circular motion. However, Copernicus rejected this way of thinking and started to use a system more similar to our modern system of the scientific method. Copernicus states, "This certainly would never have happened to them if they had followed fixed principles; for if the hypotheses they assumed were not false, all that resulted there from would be verified indubitably" (Matthews, Scientific Background, 42). This clearly shows that Copernicus did not believe in the Aristotelian form of natural philosophy and that he attempted to create a planetary model based on truth, not ancient beliefs.Another influential classical thinker was Ptolemy. Copernicus and all astronomers before him based their systems on Ptolemy's astronomy. Ptolemy laid down several sacred laws of astronomy consisting of uniform circular motion, uniform speed, and...

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