The Rationality of the Copernican Revolution Author(s): Martin V.

Curd Source: PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Vol. 1982, Volume One: Contributed Papers (1982), pp. 3-13 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Philosophy of Science Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/192651 . Accessed: 10/10/2011 11:14
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had excess PSA 1982. pp. has of science. and empirically Copernican research programme was both heuristically to its Ptolemaic rival. Copyright V lume 1." and subjective factors irrational (Kuhn 1957. postulates Aristarchan hard-core of the Copernican programme). recognized in its predictions more accurate popular myth. the which for them constitutes of the Commentariolus. Curd Purdue University Revolution Given the central importance of the Copernican theory to the birth to learn that there were it is somewhat surprising of modern science. at least (Palter. p. of whom fewer than five were major in this period The vast majority of scientists scientific figures. In a recent study. simpler than its rival Thomas Kuhn. 171). This widespread the following reluctance to adopt the heliocentric theory suggests When and why did it become about the Copernican Revolution: questions the Ptolemaic theory as false? When and why did it to reject rational to accept the Copernican theory as true? become rational Or. to accept the Earth-centered continued astronomy of Ptolemy or later switched to the geoheliocentric system of Tycho Brahe. has not gone unchallenged. Indeed. 1977). Babb. was not significantly sense in any straightforward was it neither than the Ptolemaic. contrary to as being unsatisfactory. Westman (1980) finds only ten. to put in the more familiar these questions language of the epistemologist: that the Ptolemaic When and why did the beliefs theory is false and beliefs? that the Copernican theory is true become justified are now widely these to The traditional answers questions The Copernican theory. 3-13 C 1982 by the Philosophy of Science Association . Lakatos and Zahar (1975) have argued that. with respect They base the second progressive half of this conclusion on the claim that the essential geometric for example in the of the heliocentric structure theory (as presented.The Rationality of the Copernican Martin V. and philosopher one prominent historian turned upon Revolution that the Copernican reached the conclusion that reduce to "matters of taste. conclusion This extreme and unpalatable the from its inception. remarkably few committed Copernicans prior to 1600. 1970.

however. in the writings of men coherence of the heliocentric theory expressed not and Kepler. This claim rests in turn. that neither Lakatos and Zahar Ptolemy's. theory. some of which immediately corroborated the new theory. These claims are important because they attempt to give a clear sense to the judgment that. He uses the comparison Glymour is explicit between the heliocentric and the geocentric theories merely as an illustration of the analysis of theory and confirmation testing in his book. prior to Galileo's telescopic discoveries. to 1980b) argues that the Copernican theory was objectively superior the Ptolemaic with respect to its ability to explain and be tested by the then-known facts of positional astronomy. according to which it is no longer necessary be previously unknown as long as it was not used in the construction of the theory. briefly and considerations explain only the most important of these objective of the rationality then comment on their significance for assessing the Copernican Revolution. sometimes insisted. Millman (1976) and Heidelberger (1976). We first note that Equation (1) is derivable of the Copernican system: geometric structure (1) 1/T p = 1/T e + 1/S p from the essential of the planet where T is the heliocentric period P. Nevertheless. In a similar vein.4 predictive power over the geocentric theory. to the center the center of the epicycle to the line joining respect . superior planets. Related claims have been made by Hall (1970). Glymour (1980a. on the of Zahar's revised of what constitutes a 'novel adoption conception that a novel fact fact'.the mean period of the Earth (approximately solar year) and S is the interval of time between successive episodes of the retrogradePmotion of P as viewed from the Earth. retrograde for the and at opposition for the inferior planets conjunction S is the period of. I shall Due to limitations of space. is reckoned with In the Ptolemaic where epicylic rotation system. Newton's gravitational aberration of stellar theory and the detection and stellar the heliocentric not parallax. Te is the heliocertric 365. one cycle of anomaly. motion occurs Since only at inferior superior planet. was nonetheless better than quantitatively objectively It should be noted however. The plus sign the minus sign when P is a holds when P is an inferior planet. though more accurate. though on sounder grounds. subjective. nor Glymour wish to draw any direct from this judgment conclusions of either about the rationality the Copernican theory as accepting true or of pursuing the Copernican programme in the 16th and 17th centuries. both sets of authors claim to presented have shed significant factors which lie behind light on the objective admiration for the systematic the pro-Copernican harmony and unity. or the time taken to complete. about this. These considerations are manifestly like Rheticus or merely aesthetic as Kuhn and others have irrational. which is approximately constant for each planet.25 days-.

5 of the deferent. the heliocentric calculate planets Mercury and periods of the inferior When we values of 88 days and 225 days respectively. and the distances of planetary Next we turn to the determination distances In the Ptolemaic order of the planets. from the Earth can be determined neither as absolute magnitudes nor as if one remains from observation ratios of a common unit alone. it was also possible orbits on the basis of a further relative sizes of the planetary to as 'the plenitude which is sometimes referred principle': postulate of one planet from the Earth The greatest lower bound on the distance is the same as the least upper bound on the distance between the Earth . Jupiter and Saturn. the assignment their are the same as that of the Sun. periods with the help of postulate since of order remains arbitrary Mercury and Venus. Similarly. where r is the radius from observation calculate deferent and R is the radi&s gf the planetary of the major epicycle for eaci planet but unknown). Such order be based on the values the planets cannot of Pan additional on the basis were made. within the limits strictly is the ratio r /R . assignments with the size of its P: The period of a planet increases postulate. P. But for the inferior planets. Since T is also known from the truth of any astronomical theory. is. Jupiter. Thus the order of (which is different of R . The relationship theory by the and epicyclic fact that once the deferential periods are chosen as T the radius of the major epicycle and S respectively. Once an deferential periods the to estimate order had been decided upon. that is. however. Chapter X. S is the period of the major epicycle for each is that it is an observable about S The importRnt fact planet. yielding turn to the superior planets. from the known values of the deferential Saturn follows Mars. in the Ptolemaic is represented it. While Ptolemy's geocentric or explain that theory does not predict (1) for the superior planets. of the inferior for the restricted planets and elongation explanation in the values of S as the planets are more distant for the decrease from the Earth in either direction. This is an important part is successfully of the excess theory over the power of the heliocentric predictive with Equation theory is consistent theory. in De and defended Such a postulate was annunciated by Aristotle The fixed center in the Ptolemaic system Caelo. The most that one can of that theory. the Earth. that Equation (1) holds in the case of the three superior planets and tested in these three cases. T and S are already the quantities T represents the period of the In ?he PtolemaicPsystem observations. provides a simple geometric Copernican theory. with its distance orbit. Book II. Thus the solar to the line joining parallel remains an planets component in the apparent motion of the superior as a natural fact in the Ptolemaic theory but follows unexplained the of the heliocentric theory. from the fixed center of revolution. theory to Equation (1) can be used in the eopernican observation. Thus for the superior planets. the order of course. always remains the Earth to the Sun. all three of known from independent T . without presupposing from Jbservations It can be calculated quantity. planetary theory. Mars. Thus the Copernican theory predicts deferent for each superior planet. consequence geometric unlike the Ptolemaic. Venus.

Thus. Ptolemaic again. theory In the In the Copernican stand much better. superiority By itself. but it clearly of the Copernican theory. and provides a simple explanation between the two decision Thus any rational the inferior planets. published theory.6 and the next interior this requires going itself. in the Tychonic the Sun which in turn revolves system all the planets have the Sun's apparent orbit as their deferent If orbits as their major epicycle. from these then follow Order assignments discussion). to the and kinematically is equivalent Ptolemaic) geometrically of having two main centers of the inelegance Copernican. the rationality in the historical are epistemologically factors that significant the Tychonic theory. But. the availability context: the Copernican of important and the presence problems confronting theory. that the essential belief of the Copernican Revolution in this Defined way. Of and confirm postulate and thus test distance determinations of the heliocentric confirmation this is not an empirical course demonstrates theory since P is not known to be true. a feature the unity and systematic integrity and which pl yed a major role in lacking in the Ptolemaic noticeably Rheticus and Kepler. heliocentric the the Tychonic (unlike fixed the one ignores system stars. in outline The Tychonic by Brahe in 1588. pp. and their Copernican. of a third alternative. In particular. beyond 174). . explanatory Let us of the Copernican Revolution? of the rationality understanding from the belief as the transition the Copernican Revolution define of the Ptolemaic structure that the essential system is true to the structure of the Copernican system is true. the Earth-Sun distance. theory Copernican to the explanation Copernican theory over the Ptolemaic with respect to determine data fails of the positional and systematic integration This is because of two additional of either decision. things theory. 174-5. of the the resources planet. the rationality two decisions: of the following (A) The depends on the rationality of the of the Ptolemaic theory as false. of from the center all distances heliocentric planetary system from revolution (which is now taken to be the Sun) are determinable (Kuhn as ratios of one basic unit. (B) The acceptance rejection of the the as true. the Tychonic system enjoys the data as with respect to the positional same methodological superiority of it allows the derivation does the Copernican system. 1957. observation a more sophisticated for Grafton see (1973) pp. Thus despite revolution (the Earth and the Sun). to the Ptolemaic is superior Given that the Copernican theory tested by the same (being better theory in the sense just explained and greater and data unity systematic possessing positional for our fact of this what is the relevance power). planets all revolve about about the Earth. arrangement in which the Earth is central proposes a geohfliocentric The superior and inferior and stationary. directly P. (Kuhn 1957. from the distances of planetary Equation (1) and the determination of of the restricted elongation Sun. 80-81. the arguments of Copernicus.

two of these stellar Neither the absence of detectable parallax. rejecting the issue between the Copernican and Tychonic it still left succeed. This was an important factor once it became reasonable to accept the principle inertia as a of rectilinear fundamental law of motion. all the First. and in particular allowed the fixed stars to be stationary. must be made on other. the conspicuously of a Second. Decision (B). as in (ignoring precession) the Copernican system. first became rational early in the 17th century as a clearly false. to accept the when Newtonian as true. annual were two-fold. of the of the precise of Galileo's observations result configurations cleared also of Venus. they avoided inelegant postulation diurnal motion to each celestial separate body. on physical and dynamical The two most important problems for the Copernican theory were (1) and (2) the apparent dynamical evidence that the Earth is stationary. of the Ptolemaic system (in which Venus structure essential geometric and Mercury do not go round the Sun). is The choice and the Tychonic theories between the Copernican somewhat by the appearance of semi-Tychonic complicated systems in the 16th and early These systems. These observations (which up a phases the relative concerning problem for all three theories long-standing with of Venus) are consistent in the observed brightness constancy both the Copernican and Tychonic theories (in which Venus and Mercury with the but they cannot be reconciled both go round the Sun). Reymers. of arguing that neither defensive (1) nor (2) are actually strategy terrestrial motions required by with the two principal inconsistent is a difficult became successful When this their strategy theory. As any circular Newton explained in The System of the World. proposed by were identical with and Longomontanus among others. semi-Tychonic systems they enjoyed which the Tychonic advantages system shared with the Copernican. The principle of rectilinear inertia forces to sustain (Newton's First Law of Motion) requires centripetal motion of discrete bodies about an axis of revolution. of the of the rationality answers to the question the following the Ptolemaic theory as Decision (A). to reject Copernican Revolution. that is. question to answer. and Tychonic systems since they the Ptolemaic difficulties afflicted to adopt the were forced The pro-Copernicans are both geostatic. but in regard to problem (1) I do not think we can on dynamics. Gilbert that a diurnal the Tychonic except they attributed arrangement rotation to the Earth while at the game time denying the Earth an The attraction of such revolution about the Sun. it is physically inconceivable that the centripetal forces required for diurnal stellar . late 17th centuries. and mature writings than Galileo's place it any earlier I think were good grounds for there time (the 1630's) by this did Even when this strategy the Ptolemaic theory as false.7 theories grounds. I propose In the light of these considerations theories unresolved. became rational only Copernican theory for grounds provided reasonable physical theory gravitational towards the end of the 17th the Tychonic theory as false rejecting century.

) grounds could be objective Second. Perhaps it is also sociologically than believers theories by disinterested by ardent championed ones is a are justified But whether or not these beliefs spectators. pp. endorsement of the way in which the Church dealt with Galileo.8 motion could be generated by the North-South celestial axis which is an imaginary line in space. who propose new that most scientists inevitable it is psychologically and to developing their time and energies theories and devote that they to believe a strong temptation defending them. if I am right. 553-4). experience to have new more effective are true. Of does not detract center of the universe (Kepler). What conclusions follow from this brief analysis of the Copernican if we regard a theory as a set of statements Revolution? from First. In the Copernican episode. the perfection compatibility and the in the Copernican system) (Rheticus) (the number of planets of placing the Sun at the and theological appropriateness metaphysical from this point. Thus. given the of inertia. who astronomers. then justification the issue to come by. it was not similarly the annual motion of the Earth about the Sun is also physically necessary. we have seen that excellent and given and were given for taking the Copernican theory seriously some of for trying to develop a theory of dynamics which would resolve in the debate over its pressing problems. (Newton 1687. The fact that participants such as to other factors also the heliocentric appealed theory of the number six with Holy Writ (Brahe). analysis question that only an epistemological . many of whom were proponents of the Tychonic theory. Observation acceptance was impotent to decide between the Copernican theory and its Tychonic One begins to have some sympathy for those Jesuit alternatives. new in pursuing7their course the Copernicans were rationally justified so too were the Tychonists. the diurnal rotation of the Earth becomes principle But until the overwhelming success of Newton's physically necessary. deducible as in the hypotheticowhich other statements are logically deductive model of scientific theories (rather than regarding theories as fundamentally entities such as Kuhnian paradigms or non-linguistic that a theory is as 'inference and if we regard the belief tickets') that it is false as appropriate kinds of epistemic true and the belief is for these beliefs attitude to hold towards it. to maintain that plausible gravitational theory. of science can answer. Perhaps theory but then. rather difficult but also on the rational turned not merely on observation crucially alone of a new fundamental theory of dynamics. demonstrate the Galileo's claim to be able to conclusively challenged (This is in no way intended as an truth of the Copernican theory.

Maestlin. Moesgaard (1972) Brahe was not the first to suggest a geoheliocentric arrangement in the 16th century since such systems had already been suggested by Rothmann and Viete. the reason why velocities. Jupiter's 3Chalmers (1981) has recently criticized those who claim that the Copernican theory is superior to the Ptolemaic because in the former. As Kepler realised. Gilbert in fact also assigned a precessional motion to the Earth's axis as well as a diurnal rotation and attributed both to magnetic causes. owing to its distance. Even after 1600 there were who argued against still the Copernican prominent thinkers accepting See Stimson (1917) and theory as true. the more distant have longer is not heliocentric planets periods simply because their orbits are larger but also because they move more of this slowly.9 Notes Westman lists Bruno. spheres move in the opposite to the swifter diurnal motion of the sphere of the fixed stars. As Westman notes. For details of the Tychonic system see Boas and Hall (1959). but were strongly physical reluctant to endorse the theory as a whole. P follows as a deductive consequence of Newton's gravitational theory and applies not only to the solar system but also to the gravitational system of moons. Rothmann and Kepler. and the farthest (Aristotle least. 291 7-10. notably Mersenne and Riccioli. What distinguished Brahe was Reinhold. Hine (1973). the move more slowly. Postulate P is not directly to the Tychonic applicable 199. Hariot. the Earth system in which there are two major centers and the Sun. reply Chalmers on this point see Curd (1982). in this (1543-1600) many astronomers period conservatively adopted only those parts of the Copernican theory that were independent of the claim that the Earth is in motion. Diego de Zuniga. Chalmers objects that the difference between the two theories in this respect is due solely to the position of the observer in the planetary system and thus should not be accorded For a critical to any fundamental significance. his conviction that the Tychonic system was true. (1965) notes. Lonicerus. p. . P is an intuitively but stationary." 1939. Stevin. the closer planets they are to the stellar sphere: "the nearest one is most strongly counteracted by the primary motion. I am indebted to Professor Westman for these examples. Rheticus. and Gingerich As Schofield (1973). but not in the latter. pp. Kepler proposed an (erroneous) explanation physical decrease of velocity with distance from the Sun. is based on what I call 2Aristotle's 'the friction reasoning Since the planetary direction argument'. In the Copernican with the stellar sphere system. (Gilbert 1600.) of revolution. one can calculate the ratios of the average sizes of planetary orbits. Digges. plausible ordering principle without an independent means of determining and distances planetary it remains untestable. 347-352). Galileo.

Laudan.10 Galileo two main physical or dynamical arguments (1632) presents motion around the Sun. that it is true" (as assumed in this paper) but "treating "believing it as if it were true. Galileo is also concerned with the absence of any model In a geostatic in the positions of the spots. 177-199) plane. see Burstyn (1962). inconsistent 1977. the judgment to pursue both the in this expressed paper that it was rational in the 16th century is not based Copernican and the Tychonic theories to pursue any research on Laudan's dictum that "it is always rational tradition which has a higher rate of progress than its rivals" (Laudan with it. 347-355) in himself the argument from the annual variations Galileo concedes. for acceptance to pursue but agrees that on his model it might have been rational to accept the Copernican theory in the 16th was not rational certainly not a theory". convincingly argues. alternative pp. the argument from sunspots for the Earth's and the argument from the tides As (pp. 108). century. 416-465). Galileo's the the phenomenon. of the of because to evaluate complexity of weakness and the of Galileo's assumptions implausibility is Mach (1933). to make a more which attempt 262-264. of progress at a given time. p. (pp. daily variation this requires that the Sun always turn nearly the same face toward the of the resulting Earth. For more recent analyses favorable case for Galileo's theory. since the same trajectories the paths of the sunspots is inconclusive of solar spots can be produced in a geostatic model. but it leaves the question of the Sun's tidal argument is more difficult annual motion unresolved. axis of the ecliptic pp. Moreover. criteria between and offers 7Laudan (1977) distinguishes (different) In his reply to Westman. The dynamical implausibility complex of solar the diurnal motion to motions makes a powerful case for attributing the Earth and not to the Sun. The classic criticism theories. means by "accepting however. as long as the is inclined at a constant angle to the Sun's axis of monthly rotation But as Drake (1970. roughly the concept of promise that Laudan is rationality in maximal rates whether or not this is reflected trying to explicate. . my judgment is based on a more accomodating of pursuit. Machamer (1973) adequate really behavior of the tides was provided by of the large-scale explanation Newton's gravitational theory. p. 111)." (Laudan 1977. though it is not obviously notion of the Rather. The first and Brown (1976). Laudan (1981) and pursuit. Shea (1970).

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