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KEPLERS Apologia Tychonis contra Ursum, written around 1601, remained
unpublished until 1858. Its appearance prompted Karl von Prantl and Ernst
Cassirer to draw attention to the importance and subtlety of the views on the
nature of hypotheses it contains .2 And in his influential essay To Save the
Phenomena Pierre Duhem offered a philosophical interpretation of Keplers
stance in the Apologia. Duhem, who was himself strongly critical of the position he ascribed to Kepler, bracketed the clash between Kepler and Ursus with
an earlier clash between the Jesuit mathematician Clavius and certain doubters
of the truth of Ptolemaic astronomy, as an instance of a traditional confrontation between a misguided realist view of the status of astronomical hypotheses,
derived from Aristotle, and a sound instrumentalist view of their status, derived from the Greek mathematical astronomers.3 But, perhaps because the
Apologia has never been translated from the intricately Ciceronian Latin, it
has received little recent critical attention from philosophers..
In this paper my aim is to reconstruct and assess the philosophical
arguments which Clavius and Kepler deploy against their opponents. I shall
argue that, whilst Duhems bracketing of Keplers defence of Tycho with
Clavius defence of the Ptolemaic astronomy is perceptive, the usual
categorization of Clavius and Kepler as realists combatting an instrumentalist
view of the status of astronomical hypotheses is at best a misleading half-truth.
All parties to these disputes were, I shall suggest, realists. Clavius and
*Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Free School
Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RF, England.
Joannis Kepleri astronomi opera omnia, ed. Ch. Frisch, I, 236-216,
Frankfurt, 1858
(Hereafter cited as Opera). On the dating of the manuscript see also E. Rosen, Keplers defence
of Tycho against Ursus, Popular Astronomy, 54 (1946), 408 - 411.
K. von Prantl, Galileo und Kepler als Logiker, Sitzungsberichte der philosophischphilologirchen und historischen Chrsseder k.6. Akademie der Wissenschqften zu MUnchen. 1875,
394 - 408; E. Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschqft der neueren
Zeit, I, Berlin, 1906, 328-352.
P. Duhem, XZEIN TA @AINOMENA, Paris, 1908; English translation by E. Doland and C.
Maschler, To Suve the Phenomena, Chicago, 1%9 (Hereafter cited as Phenomena). On Clavius
see Phenomena, 92 - 96; on Kepler see Phenomena, 100 - 104.
The authors translation of the Apologia with commentary will appear in a forthcoming work.
R. M. Blake, Theory of hypothesis among renaissance astronomers, in Blake et al., Theories
of Scientific Method, Washington, 1960.22 - 49, stays close to Duhems interpretation as do most
other recent commentators. However, both R. S. Westman, Keplers theory of hypothesis and the
realist dilemma, Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 3 (1972), 233 - 264, and J. Mittelstrass, Methodological
aspects of Keplerian astronomy, ibid., 213-232, suggest, as I shall in this paper, that one of
Keplers concerns in the first chapter of the Apologia is with the means whereby theoretical conflict in astronomy may be resolved.
Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci., vol. 10. (1979) No. 2, pp. 141- 173.
Pergamon Press, Ltd., Printed in Great Britain.


Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Keplers arguments should be taken at face value as attempts to counter cogent

sceptical attacks on the astronomy of their day. The interest of their arguments
lies in the theses about the status of hypotheses that they adopt in order to
counter the sceptic. In particular, the first chapter of Keplers Apologia, the
primary focus of this paper, formulates epistemic theses which mark a radical
break with the traditional forms of realism.
The third edition, 1581, of Clavius commentary on the De Sphaera of
Sacrobosco includes, amongst other additions, a lengthy defence of the
Ptolemaic system against the scepticism of Averroes and his followers.
Clavius presents three arguments. The first two purport to. show that by
postulating epicycles and eccentrics all the celestial phenomena, the apparent
positions and motions of the heavenly bodies, can be predicted; whereas no
system of concentrics can yield such predictions. The third argument is more
complex. Clavius opens it by claiming that knowledge of the existence of
epicycles and eccentrics, like all knowledge of causes, is obtained by inference
from observed phenomena. The inference is a reasonable one provided that
the following compound condition is satisfied: Causes are to be appropriately
assigned for all the motions and appearances, and it should not be possible to
infer from them anything that is false or repugnant to natural philosophy.
Having already shown that postulation of epicycles and eccentrics satisfies the
first clause, he promises to show that it satisfies the second clause also. Clavius
does not, however, proceed directly to his demonstration of the consistency of
epicycles and eccentrics with the principles of Aristotelian physics. Instead he
digresses to answer the following objection:
Our adversaries, indeed, try to undermine this argument. They say that they concede that by postulating eccentric orbs and epicycles all the phenomena can be saved, but that from this it does not follow that the said orbs are to be found in nature:
they are, rather, altogether fictitious. [This is so], they say, because it may be that
the phenomena can be saved in some more appropriate way, even though it is as yet
unknown to us, and because it is possible that the true appearances are saved by
means of the said orbs, even though they are altogether fictitious and in no way the
true causes of those appearances;
just as one can derive what is true from what is
false, as is well known from Aristotles Dialectic.

Clavius goes on to rebut this objection in a passage of considerable intrinsic

philosophical interest. It is also of historical interest, for it provides a model
for two far more sophisticated rebuttals of scepticism in the field of astronomy

In Sphaeram Ioannii de Sacro Bosco commentarius,

nunc iterum ab ipso auctore recognitus,
Rome, 1581 (hereafter cited as In Sphaeram). For details of the editions see C. Sommervogel,
BibtiothPque de la Compagnie de J&us, Vol. 2, Paris, 1891, ~01s. 1212- 1213.
In Sphaeram, 434 - 435. The reference to Aristotles Dialectic is to Prior Analytics, 11: 2 - 4.

The Forging of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


undertaken by Kepler. At the beginning of his first major work, Mysterium

cosmogruphicum, 1596, Kepler introduces precisely the sceptical objection
which Clavius had tried to answer, though here the suggestion is that the
capacity of Copernicus hypotheses to save the phenomena is compatible
with their falsity. Keplers answer is, as we shall see, strategically close to
These two rebuttals of scepticism are subsidiary to the defence of particular
astronomical systems, and though in each case the counter-arguments offered
reveal interesting presuppositions about the status of astronomical hypotheses,
these are not made fully explicit. However, in his Apologia Tychonis contra
U-sum Kepler essays a general defence of astronomy against a variety of sceptical objections, and in so doing explicitly presents a number of remarkable
theses about the status of hypotheses. The work as a whole is a vindication of
Tycho Brahes claim to originality in proposing a geoheliocentric worldsystem. Its target is one Nicolai Reymers Baer (Ursus), from 1591 to his death
in 1600 court mathematician to the Emperor Rudolph II. In 1597 Ursus had
published a work entitled Tractatus de hypothesibus astronomicis, full of
abuse and scurrilities directed at Tycho. Tycho, and others, had earlier
publicly charged Ursus with having plagiarised the Tychonic system in his Fundamentum astronomicum of 1588. In the Tractatus Ursus counter-attacks
with a curious argument reminiscent of Aesops fable of the fox and the
grapes. As a matter of fact, he claims, it was Tycho who stole the idea from
him. But, anyway, it was not a new idea, since it had been anticipated first by
Apollonius of Perga and then by many others including Copernicus. Tycho
planned to protect his reputation in a two-part book: the first part to contain
the proceedings of his successful legal action against Ursus for libel and
defamation of character; the second part, the part he eventually persuaded
Kepler to write, being a defence of his claim to priority. In 1595 Kepler had
written an adulatory letter to Ursus, expressing admiration for Ursus
that is the geoheliocentric
system of the Fundamentum
astronomicurn, and hailing him as the greatest mathematician in Europe.
Without Keplers permission Ursus incorporated the letter into his Tractatus.
Tycho exploited Keplers embarrassment over this, and, after lengthy negotiations, a reluctant Kepler was bullied into writing the Apologia, the second part
of Tychos planned demolition of Ursus. Kepler, well aware that
De astronomicis
seu systemate
. . ., (Prague, 1597) (hereafter cited as Tractatus).
Fundamenrum astronomicurn: id est. nova doctrina sinuum et triangulorum.
. . ., Strasbourg,
1588. An assessment of Ursus world-system
and of the evidence for the charge of plagiarism is offered by Christine Jones, The Geoheliocentric PIanetary System: itsDevelopment
and Influence in
rhe Lore Sixteenth and Sevenfeenrh Cenruries, unpublished
Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1964, IOS- 136. The charge was made public in letters between Tycho and Rothmann
published in Tychos Episrolarum asrronomicarum
liber primum, Uraniborg,
OA full account of the protracted
and tortuous negotiations
through which Kepler became committed to the writing of the Apologia is given by Frisch, Opera, I, 217 - 235, (in Latin).


Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

mathematically the Tychonic system is only a trivial variant of the Copernican,

devoted the first of the four chapters of the Apologia to a refutation of the
claim of Ursus (and Osiander, whom Ursus had cited as an authority) that
astronomical hypotheses are mere calculating devices, not portrayals of the
true form of the universe.

Realism and instrumentalism are terms of wide connotation. But when,

following Duhem, Kepler and Clavius are described as realists, Osiander and
Ursus as instrumentalists or fictionalists, the import of the distinction is fairly
clear. Kepler and Clavius are supposed to have held that astronomical
hypotheses are rightly interpreted as premised on the existence of certain
heavenly bodies and as describing their disposition and the motions they
undergo. The hypotheses are true if the universe contains bodies which have
the arrangement and undergo the motions which the hypotheses ascribe to
them; otherwise they are false. Their opponents are supposed to have held that
astronomical hypotheses are not to be interpreted as descriptions of the constitution of the universe. Rightly understood they are not descriptions at all,
and hence are not properly held to be true or false according to their success or
failure in portraying the constitution of the universe. Rather they are to be interpreted as devices proposed for the sole purpose of saving the phenomena,
to be assessed according to their usefulness in systematising and predicting the
apparent positions and motions of the heavenly bodies.
Duhems tidy partition of ancient, medieval and renaissance astronomers
and cosmologists into realists and instrumentalists has not been left unchallenged. Mittelstrass interpretation of the classical notion of saving the
phenomena is often at variance with Duhems, and Lloyd has made a convincing case against the interpretations of classical texts on which Duhem rests his
general ascription of instrumentalism to the Greek mathematical astronomers.
And others, Donahue for example, have complained that no such neat
dichotomy can do justice to the extraordinary range of views on the status of
astronomical hypotheses prevalent in the sixteenth century.
Let us start with a relatively simple question. Against what position is
Clavius arguing? Clavius identifies his adversaries as Averroes and his
followers. The sceptical argument which he attributes to them is to be found
in Averroes commentary on De caelo. It is reiterated by numerous medieval
J. Mittelstrass,
Die Rerfung der PhBnomene, Berlin, 1962; G. E. R. Lloyd, Saving the appearances,
Clussicul Quarrerly, 28 (1978), 202 - 222; W. H. Donahue,
The solid planetary
spheres in post-Copernican
natural philosophy,
in The Copernicun Achievemenr, R. S. Westman
(ed.) (Berkeley, 1975), 244 -275.
Arisrorelis omnia quae exront opera . . . , A verrois Cordubensis . , . commenlarii.
Venice, 1550- 1552, V, f.55v col. 2 (commentary
on De cue/o, 11:6, 288a 13 -27).

The Forging of Modern Realtim: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


and renaissance natural philosophers including many who are not in any
technical sense Averroists. One of Averroes sixteenth century Italian admirers, Agostino Nifo (1473 - 1538). summarises Averroes argument as
Averroes argued logically against epicycles and eccentrics in the following way.
One should understand that a sound demonstration is one in which the cause is
necessary for the effect. Now it is granted that when eccentrics and epicycles are
posited the appearances follow and can be saved. But the converse is not true.
When the appearances are posited, epicycles and eccentrics do not have to be
[posited], except for the time being until another better cawa is discovered which is
necessary [for the appearances]. The proponents of epicycles and eccentrics are,
therefore, in error, because they argue from a proposition having several causas for
the truth of one of them. But these appearances can be saved both in this way and
in others which have not yet been discovered.13

Nifo, still following Averroes, goes on to claim that a true astronomy,

consistent with Aristotelian physics, must be founded on homocentrics.


unlike his contemporaries,
Giovanni Amici and Girolamo Fracastoro,
of 1538 Clavius attacks in the course of his defence of the
Ptolemaic system, Nifo offers no detailed account of the way in which such a

system can save the phenomena. By no means all of those who endorse Averroes logical argument against the Ptolemaic astronomy actually declare
that the celestial phenomena can be saved using only homocentrics. Aquinas,
for example, remains non-committal
as do several Italian renaissance
Aristotelians including Tommaso de Vio Gaetano (1469 - 1534) and Benedict
Pereira (1535 - 1610).
Duhems treatment of those who deny or doubt the truth of Ptolemaic
astronomy is puzzling. Nifo, Fracastoro and other declared homocentrists, he
assigns to the realist camp, but many of those who fail to declare themselves
homocentrists he describes as fictionalists or near-fictionalists.
Yet the
passages he cites all admit of a simple interpretation. Whatever they may have
believed about the prospects for a workable homocentric astronomy, all these
Aristotelians held that Ptolemaic astronomy is useful, being the best predictive
advice yet discovered, but that it is false; false because it describes a universe
inconsistent with the principles of Aristotelian physics. Clavius adversaries
are surely realists sceptical of the established astronomy.
aNifo, In Aristoteh
libros de coelo et mundo commentaria
(1517), Venice, 1553, 90v col. 2
(cited in Duhem, Phenomena, 48). Causa evidently has the weak sense of sufficient condition
Aquinas, Summa, 1:32, I -2; Tommaso de Vio Gaetano (Cajetanus), Expositio in libro[s] de
coelo et mundo. Venice, 1502, f.39r; Pereira. De communibus
cipiis et affectionibus
(1562), Rome, 1576, 47D -48D. Pereira,


rerum naturaiium


who taught at Rome at the same

time as Clavius, and who held views on the nature of mathematics and the mathematical arts
strongly opposed to his, is a likely target for some of Clavius remarks.


Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

The next question is trickier. Against what position is Kepler arguing? Do

Osianders preface to Copernicus De revolutionibus and Ursus account of
the nature of astronomical hypotheses at the beginning of his Tract&us represent an instrumentalist position, as Duhem claimed; or are they too expressions of realist scepticism?
Recent research has established close links between humanism as a movement of educational reform, and scepticism.15 The scepticism with which the
humanist movement is linked is not a radical form of scepticism. None of the
major humanist reformers, from Valla to Agricola, Vives, and Melanchthon
follows the classical precedent of Sextus Empiricus in questioning the validity
of all alleged truths of reason, and none follows Sextus or anticipates
Descartes in doubting all testimony of the senses. The scepticism which pervades the movement is Ciceronian scepticism, an urbane refusal to accept as
established any elaborate system in metaphysics or natural philosophy. The
outcome of such scepticism is adherence to Ciceros precedent in presenting
arguments in utramque partem, on both sides of theoretical questions, and in
refraining from going beyond a declaration that one possible answer is more
plausible or likely (verisimilior) than others. The strategies of argument to be
used in such deliberative teaching are codified in the new dialectic pioneered
by Lorenzo Valla, and popularised in the university textbooks of Agricola,
Sturm, Caesarius and Melanchthon. This humanist dialectic, set up in conscious opposition to scholastic logic, emphasises the persuasive force and
didactic effectiveness of commonplace views and of argument by induction,
analogy and precedent.
Receptiveness to this moderate scepticism on the part of Christian
humanists like Erasmus, Luther, Melanchthon and Osiander, was increased by
the fact that their primary theological source, St. Augustine, was also a key
source for mitigated scepticism. In his Contra Academicos Augustine adopts a
carefully thought out compromise position on the attainability of knowledge.
His target is the Academic sceptical claim, the claim of Carneades which he
took to have been endorsed by Cicero, that no opinion on any matter can
reasonably be held to be more than probable. This position, a position
Augustine himself had held at one stage of his intellectual development, he
sees as having awful moral consequences.6 Augustine attempts to refute it,
both by questioning its coherence and by showing how a limited range of
truths can be known with certainty. The testimony of the senses, though
generally unreliable, assures us at least of the existence of the world. Further,
T. B. Schmitt, The recovery and assimilation
of ancient scepticism in the renaissance, Riv.
Crit. Storia Filosofia, 27 (1972). 363 - 384; C. J. Armstrong,
The dialectical road to truth: the
in P. Sharratt
(ed.), French Renaissance Sfudies, l54O- 1570 (Edinburgh,
36- 51; Lisa A. Jardine, Lorenzo Valla and the intellectual origins of humanist dialectic, J. Hist.
Phil. 15 (1977). 143 - 164.
#See, e.g., Contra Academicos,
3: 16, 35.

The Forging of Modern

Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against

the Sceptics


through the innate light of the mind we can apprehend with certainty truths
stored in our own memory; notably truths about numbers and figures, and the
fact of Gods existence. Finally, we can be sure of all instances of the rules of
logic. But though Augustine rejects extreme scepticism, his stance here (as in
the books of the Confessions and De Trinitafe in which he treats of human
knowledge) remains markedly sceptical. The misleading power of the senses is
largely conceded to the sceptic, and knowledge of nature is supposed to be
granted to men only insofar as such knowledge is needed to provide a basis for
apprehension of the existence and benevolence of a Creator. Further,
Augustines own style of argument is frequently that of the Ciceronian dialectician; for example, in the Contra Academicos, after presenting arguments on
both sides of the question, he concludes only that it is more probable than not
that we can answer some questions with certainty.
Philipp Melanchthons views on the attainability of knowledge combine
elements of Augustinian epistemology with the tenets of the humanist dialectic
of which he was so influential a protagonist. And Melanchthon is, for our purpose, a key figure. As Luthers right-hand man he was an instigator of
humanist curricula in over a dozen German universities and gymnasia. Promotion of the mathematical arts was a central part of the humanist programme,
and astronomy flourished as never before in the academies which fell under
Melanchthons aegis. Further, though subsequently violently at theological
odds with Melanchthon and Luther, Osiander was, up to the time he wrote the
notorious preface to Copernicus De revolutionibus, an intellectual ally of
Melanchthons and involved in the creation of a humanist curriculum at the
Ntirnberg Gymnasium.1g
Melanchthons views on the attainability of knowledge are set out in almost
identical terms in each of his major non-theological works: his dialectic textbook, his lectures on physics, and his De Here he adopts the tradiIn 2~12, 27 Augustine argues that the academic position is incoherent since all judgements of
probability are relative to evidence which must be certain; and in 3: 10, 24 - 13, 29 he presents his
three sources of certainty. The best general account of Augustines epistemology that I have found
is J. Hessen,Augustins hfetuphysik der Erkenntnti, 2nd edn. (Leiden, 1960).
On humanist promotion of the mathematical arts see, H. &hilling, Die Geschichte der Axiomatischen Methode im 16. und beginnenden 17. Jahrhundert, (Hildesheim, 1969); R. Hooykaas,
Humantsme, Science et Reforme: Pierre de la Romee (1515 - 1572) (Leyden, 1958); P. L. Rose,
The Itahon Renaissance of Mathematics: Studies on Humanists and h4athematician.s from
Petrarch to Galileo (Geneva, 1975).
On Osianders relations with Melanchthon see, A. B. Wrightsman. Andreas Osiunder ond
Lutheran Contributions to the Copernicun Revolution, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of
Wisconsin, 1970.
*nMelanchthon, Compendiario dialectices rutio (Leipzig, 1520) (revised versions include De
dialectico libri IV, Wittenberg, 1531, and Erotemata dialectices. Wittenberg, 1547); Initia doctrinae physicae, dictato in Academia Vitebergensi (Wittenberg, 1549); Liber de anima (Wittenberg, 1553). Subsequent references are-to C. G. Bretschneider (ed.) Phihppi Mehmchthoni
opera quaesupersunt omniu, Halle, 1834 - 1843 and Braunschweig, 1853 - 1860 (hereafter cited as
M.O. 7. Meianchthons De anima shows numerous close parallels with passages from Augustine
who is repeatedly cited. His account of the role of memory in cognition is thoroughly Augustinian,


Studies in

Htitory and Philosophy

of Science

tional distinction between scientia, certain apprehension of the truth, and

opinio, into which are lumped probable, plausible and commonly accepted
beliefs.2 And he repeatedly emphasises the meagreness of the knowledge of
nature accessible to man. Thus, in the preface to his De anima he writes: Even
though the nature of things cannot be penetrated by the human mind, yet God
wished it to be considered by men so that they should take account of the
evidence in it about Him, which shows that there is indeed a God, and what
His nature is.?? The same sentiment is reiterated in the letter which prefaces
his physics lectures. 22 Nevertheless, in each of these works Melanchthon explicitly rejects, in terms very close to Augustines, the extreme sceptical claim
that no knowledge of nature is attainable. As well as revealing knowledge
through scripture, God has graciously provided men with three criteria which
enable them to attain knowledge. The first criterion is experientia universalis:
by applying the senses to their proper objects under normal circumstances we
are able to obtain knowledge of the properties of the various kinds of terrestial
objects. For example, we can thus be sure that fire is hot and that women give
birth to children. The second criterion is noticia principiorum: men retain certain vestiges of the knowledge lost at the Fall and are able by the light of the
mind to apprehend mathematical truths as well as certain general principles
common to all disciplines (Aristotles common axioms). For example, we can
be sure that 2 + 2 = 4, and that the whole is greater than its proper part. The
third criterion is intellectus ordinis in sylfogismo, grasp of syllogistic form,
which allows us to extend our initial stock of knowledge by syllogistic inference. Though at one point in his physics lectures Melanchthon enthusiastically declares that knowledge of many causes is attainable in physics,2s
the upshot of his epistemology is a markedly sceptical stance on many questions about the nature and constitution of the world. With the marked exception of questions which he regards as settled by the authority of scripture the immobility of the earth and hence the falsity of Copernicus system, for example - he treats most such questions as either open or futile, presenting
arguments on both sides, and almost invariably concluding that the more

and many of the scriptural texts he uses to justify his theses had been used by Augustine to justify
similar theses. Melanchthons moral objections to academic scepticism are almost certainly derived from Conrru Acudenricox, as are the three criteria which he presents as sources of certainty.
I Scientiu is apprehension in which demonstration compels us to assent to a proposition; opinio
is apprehension in which we are moved by a probable reason to incline more to one side [of a question] than to the other, and assent or acceptance is suspended, De onimu, M.O., XIII, col. 166.
M.O., XIII, col. 137.
M.O., VII, col. 412.
This account is based on the sections of Melanchthons De unimu and Erotemutu diulectices
entitled Quue sum cuusue certitudinis doctrinutum. 7, together with the section of Initiu docfrinue
physicue entitled Dine certirudo uliquu doctrinu. (M.O.. XIII, col. 150; col. 647; cols
XIII, col. 186.

The Forging of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


traditional and conservative answer is to be preferred.z6

I conjecture that Osianders notorious preface and the opening of Ursus
like Melanchthons
own pronouncements
on the status of
astronomical hypotheses, represent the widespread moderate sceptical stance
promoted by the humanist dialecticians. Unlike the scepticism of Clavius
Aristotelian opponents, this form of scepticism applies to natural philosophy
quite generally, not merely to celestial matters or to the Ptolemaic system.
When Melanchthon assures us that the nature of things cannot be penetrated
by the human mind, when Osiander declares that neither the astronomer nor
the philosopher will understand or state anything certain unless it has been
divinely revealed to him, and when Ursus maintains that it is hardly possible
for men to think up astronomical hypotheses which correspond to the form of
the world-system itself, 2* their pronouncements are to be taken at face value.
It should be noted in passing that there are some grounds, duly noted by
Kepler in the Apologia, for doubting the sincerity of Osianders and Ursus
sceptical pronouncements. In Osianders case the doubt is sown by passages,
quoted by Kepler, from letters he wrote to Rheticus and Copernicus. In these
he advises the inclusion of a preface along the lines of the one he subsequently
wrote, on the grounds that such a preface would pre-empt the objections of the
theologians and peripatetics and would facilitate acceptance of Copernicus
opinions.2g In Ursus case the doubt is sown by a blatant inconsistency. At the
beginning of the Tructutus he claims that it does not matter if astronomical
hypotheses contradict the scriptures, because they are all admittedly false and
are proposed only as calculating devices. Yet later in the same work he attempts to demonstrate the truth of his own variant of the Tychonic system
from scriptural texts.50 In the case of Osiander the issue can, I think, be settled
by appeal to his other writings. In his theological works he reiterates the view
For Melancnthons views on the status of astronomical hypotheses see M.O.. XIII, cols
213 -292. There have been few general studies of Melanchthons epistemology. B. Sartorius,
Melanchthon und das spekulative Denken, Deutsche Vierteoahrsschrift fur Literatur,
Wissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, 5 (1927). 644 -678, emphasises the eclecticism of Melanchthons epistemology and draws attention to his agnosticism on natural philosophical questions.
W. Maurer, Melanchthon und die Naturwissenschaft seiner Zeit, Arch. Kufturgeschichte. 44
(1962). 199- 226. emphasises the conservatism of Melanchthons natural philosophy and its
subordination to his natural theology. Both authors have characterised what I have diagnosed as
Augustinian elements in his epistemology as neoplatonic.
From E. Rosens excellent translation of Osianders preface, in E. Rosen, Three Copernican
Treatises (New York, 1939), 24 - 25.
Tractatus, f.Biv,v.
Of these letters only the passages quoted by Kepler are known (Opera, I. 246).
0So hypotheses do not err in the least if they contradict the common principles of other arts
and disciplines, or, indeed, even if they contradict the infallible and certain authority of the sacred
scriptures, Tractatus, f.Biv,v. Cf.. 1 shall give no other reasons for my version [of Apollonius of
Pergas hypotheses] except the demonstration from the Sacred Scriptures which follows (for thin
alone is sufficient, though I have other reasons), Tractatus, f.Div,v. The latter passage constitutes
a part of Ursus reply to Helisaeus Roeslin who had described Ursus hypotheses as contrary to
physics ano the sacred scriptures, De opere lki creation& . . ., (Frankfurt, 1597). 46.


Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

that the primary source of knowledge is reading of scripture, and his occasional remarks on medicine, alchemy and astrology emphasise the uncertainty
of all remedies and the dependence of cure on Gods wi1L3 Indeed, Osiander
may well have been less moderate in his scepticism than Melanchthon. In the
case of Ursus, appeal to his other works is inconclusive. The Geodaesia Rantzoviana, 1583, contains nothing relevant to the issue, and the Fundamentum
astronomicum, 1588, is ambiguous. It does indeed contain a Job-inspired outburst on the awfulness of mans lot and his moral and intellectual feebleness,
as well as specific sceptical remarks on our inability to answer certain questions about the form of the universe; but it contains also a number of
arguments from physical premises designed to vindicate Ursus own (or rather,
if the plagiarism charge is correct, Tychos) world-system.32 Perhaps Ursus is
confused (one possible source of his confusion being his repeated identification of astronomical hypotheses with systems of spheres, an identification
which may have led him to regard his own arguments against the existence of
solid spheres as demonstrating the unreality of astronomical hypotheses), or
perhaps we should regard the sceptical opening to the Tracfatus as a polemical
stance designed to facilitate his attack on Tychos claim to originality.
Fortunately, for our purposes, both the precise degree of scepticism adopted
by Osiander and Ursus and the sincerity of the adoption are immaterial. It suffices to note that Osianders and Ursus pronouncements are consistent with a
widely prevalent, indeed, in the protestant universities of Germany, orthodox,
moderate sceptical position.
Those forms of scepticism which cast doubt on the existence of an external
world are surely conducive to, even if they do not actually entail, an instrumentalist interpretation of the natural sciences. Berkeleyan phenomenalism is an obvious example. But it is perfectly clear that the scepticism of
Osiander and Ursus is not of this kind. However, short of such radical scepticism, there appear to be available in the sixteenth century few options for a
scepticism conducive to an instrumentalist interpretation of astronomical
hypotheses. Indeed, I can think of only two plausible candidates, both based
on dualistic ontologies. One, whilst acknowledging the existence of the objects
of the terrestial world, would place the celestial world altogether beyond our
On Osianders theological
and exegetical writings see E. Hirsch, Die Theologie des Andreas
Osiander und ihre geschichtlichen
1919); A. B. Wrightsman,
Andress Osiander and Lutheran Contributions
to the Copernican Revolution,
thesis, University of Wisconsin,
1970, Ch.3.
The bulk of the Fundamentum astronomicurn is devoted to trigonometrical
methods of use in
practical astronomy.
Ursus new world-system
is illustrated by a large fold-out diagram interpolated between the dedicatory
letter and the first chapter, and is described in detail in the final
chapter, in which twenty physical theses are offered in support of it. These include a denial of the
existence of solid spheres and a denial of the triple motion of the earth on the Aristotelian
that a simple body must have a single natural motion. Ursus also questions the finitude of the
universe and conjectures that the fixed stars may be at distances proportional
to their magnitudes.
But he raises a doubt about our ability to answer these questions conclusively.

The Forging of Modern


Clavius and Kepler Against

the Sceptics


ken, denying that we can know even that it includes real celestial bodies performing real motions in space. The other, maintaining an unbridgeable gulf between things as they are and the world of appearances would deny that
knowledge of the true form of the universe, if attained, would enable us to explain the apparent positions and motions of the stars. Elements of both these
forms of scepticism are perhaps to be found in certain renaissance authors
with Platonist sympathies; for example, Giovanni Pontano (1426 - 1503) and
Lefevre dEtaples (Faber Stapulensis cu 1455 - 1536), to both of whom Duhem
ascribes a fictionalist position. But there is no evidence that Melanchthon,
Osiander or Ursus held such radical views. I conclude that instrumentalism, in
the technical philosophical sense, cannot be ascribed to them.
The term instrumentalist is, however, sometimes used in a much looser
sense, roughly equivalent to pragmatist. Consider a hydrodynamic theorist
interested in drag on irregular hulls due to turbulence, or a physical chemist interested in the kinetics of very complex chemical reactions. In principle the
problems they face are soluble from physical first principles by analytic means.
In practice no one in his right mind would attempt to solve them in this way.
Too many boundary conditions would have to be ascertained for the problems
to be posed in analytic terms, and even were they so posed the analysis itself
would far outrun the joint capacities of the human mind and the computer.
Here the scientist is bound to make use of ad hoc generalisations and models
whose truth or range of valid applicability is gravely in doubt. The messier the
problems he faces the more likely he is to assess such ad hoc devices simply in
terms of their predictive success, with scant regard for theoretical foundations.
And in tackling a given problem he will frequently employ several models
which are, interpreted realistically, inconsistent. Such a scientist is often said
to adopt an instrumentalist or pragmatic stance. His stance is premised on
scepticism about the feasibility of acquiring certain kinds of knowledge, but it
is perfectly consistent with realism.
It is, I suggest, such pragmatism, premised on moderate scepticism that lies
behind Melanchthons at first sight curious assessments of the Ptolemaic and
Copernican hypotheses: for example his dismissal of Averroes objections to
the Ptolemaic hypotheses on the grounds that though geometers do not suppose there really are epicycles and eccentrics, the hypotheses do show the
of the motions; and his concession that though Copernicus system is
false, his lunar model is altogether well constructed.3 The stance is the same
G. G. Pontano, De rebus coelestibus libri xiv (Naples, 1512) (quoted in Duhem, Phenomena,
54 - 56); Lefkvre dEtaples, Inrroductorium astronomicurn. . . ., (Paris, 1503) (quoted in Duhem.
Phenomena, 56 - 57).
M.O., XIII, cols 232 and 244 (here, as often elsewhere, Melanchthon uses the term cuusufor
sufjicient condition; cf., fn. 13). There is a large literature on Melanchthons attitude to Copernicus, and in particular on the significance

of his mitigation

of his criticism of Copernicus

in the


Studies in History and Philosophy

of Science

when Osiander claims that since astronomers cannot in any way attain to the
true causes, they must conceive and devise such hypotheses as, being assumed, enable the motions to be calculated correctly from the principles of
geometry, for the future as well as the past; and when Ursus maintains that it
is permitted and conceded to astronomers . . . to fabricate hypotheses,
whether true or false and feigned, of such a kind as may yield the phenomena
and appearances of the celestial motions and correctly produce a method for
calculating them.3s
Some of the passages (from Ptolemy, Simplicius, Proclus and Theon of
Smyrna) cited by Duhem in support of his general ascription of instrumentalism to Greek mathematical astronomers may be read as expressions of a
similarly pragmatic attitude to practical astronomy. And the same pragmatic
attitude may sometimes underlie the sharp distinction between physical and
mathematical astronomy that is commonly emphasised by both medieval and
renaissance natural philosophers. 36The evidence for the prevalence of this attitude amongst German professional astronomers in the latter part of the sixteenth century is, however, much firmer. Following the pioneering work of
Zinner there has been intensive study of the reception of the Copernican
hypotheses. In particular, it has been shown by Westman that from the 1550s
in the protestant German universities Copernicus planetary models were increasingly widely presented alongside Ptolemaic planetary models by those
who either rejected the theory as a true description of the universe, or, more
often, refrained from commenting on the issue.37 This approach to the Copernican system, the approach of Peucer, Reinhold and Praetorius, sceptical or
non-committal on the question of its truth, but committed on the question of
the practical usefulness of some of the Copernican planetary models, has been
called the Wittenberg interpretation. It represents precisely the sceptical,
second edition of his Initia docfrinaephysicae and of his own unpublished calculations on the motions of the sun. Useful recent assessments are K. Mtiller, Ph. Melanchthon und das kopernikanische Weltsystem, Cenfaunrs, 9 (1963 - 1964), 16-28, and the article by Maurer already
cited (fn.25). Maurer argues, as I do here, that, despite the discrepancies between their public pronouncements on the Copernican system, Melanchthon and Osiander share a common view of the
status of astronomical hypotheses.
Osiander, translation from E. Rosen, lot. cit. (fn.27); Ursus, Tracratus. f.Biv,v.
Frequently cited sources for this distinction are Aristotle, Physics, I:2, 193b 22-36, and a
quotation from Geminus in Simphcius commentary on that passage (In Aristoteles physjcorum
Libras QuaffuorPriores, ed. H. Diels (Berlin, 1882). 291.21-292.31; transl. T. L. Heath, Arisfarthus of Samos (Oxford, 1913). 275-276). Although in contrasting the physicist with the
astronomer Geminus says that astronomers do sometimes save the phenomena without regard to
the causes, the passage as a whole, far from claiming autonomy for mathematical astronomy,
emphasises the dependence of mathematical astronomy on physics. Cf. Lloyd, loccir. (fn.2).
E. Zinner, Entstehung und Ausbreitung der coppernicanischen Lehre (Erlangen. 1943); J.
Dobrzycki (ed.) The Reception of Copernicus Heliocentric Theory (Dordrecht, 1973); R. S.
Westman, The Melanchthon circle, Rheticus, and the Wittenberg interpretation of the Copernican theory, Isis, 66 (1975). 165 - 193; Three responses to Copernican theory: Johannes
Praetorius, Tycho Brahe, and Michael Maestlin, in The Copernican Achievement, R. S. Westman
(ed.), (Berkeley, 1975).

The Forging of Modern Realkm: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


philosophically realist but pragmatic attitude to astronomical hypotheses that

I have attributed to Melanchthon, Osiander and Ursus.
If my interpretation of the attitudes to astronomy against which Clavius and
Kepler react is correct, the historical interest of their reactions is considerably
enhanced. Clavius can be seen to be reacting against an attitude to astronomy
commonplace amongst the Aristotelian natural philosophers of the Italian
universities. And Kepler can be seen to be reacting against an attitude orthodox in protestant humanist circles and promoted by astronomers in the
German universities.

Clavius seeks to rebut a single sceptical argument: the fact that a set of
astronomical hypotheses saves the phenomena does not provide grounds for
accepting those hypotheses; for, as Aristotle notes in the Prior Analytics, a
true conclusion can follow from false premises. Before countering this,
Clavius obligingly fortifies the argument:
I can add some support to their position as follows. Nicolaus Copernicus, in his
work on the revolutions of the celestial orbs, saved all the phenomena in another
way. He posited that the firmament is at rest and immobile, and the sun at rest also
in the centre of the universe, and he attributed to the earth, which he placed in the
third heaven, a triple motion, etc. So eccentrics and epicycles are not necessary for
the saving of the planetary phenomena. And again, in the case of the sun, Ptolemy
used an epicycle to explain all the appearances that he saved using an eccentric. So
it cannot be inferred from our third argument that the sun is moved in an eccentric,
for perhaps it is moved in an epicycle.3

This is fortification indeed! If there are inconsistent hypotheses each of which

saves the phenomena, then, in astronomy, saving of the phenomena using
false premises is not a mere possibility but a fact. So it is not a mere possibility
that saving of the phenomena may not provide adequate grounds for acceptance of hypotheses, but a fact that it does not do so. Let us call this the argument from observational equivalence. Clavius two examples of observational
equivalence are of very different weights. The equivalence, for suitable choice
of parameters, of a planetary model which uses an eccentric with one which
uses a concentric with epicycle (an equivalence whose discovery was generally
credited to Hipparchus)3B can be used by the sceptic to cast doubt only on the
In Sphaeram, 435. The reference to Ptolemy is to Ahnag&. 3~4.
*In fact, as Kepler shows later in the Apologia (Opera, 1,272), knowledge of this equivalence is
attributable to Apollonius on the strength of Almagest. X11:1. This attribution is confirmed by 0.
Neugebauer, The equivalence of eccentric and epicyclic motion according to Apollonius, Scripta
Mathemafica, 24, (1959), 5 - 21.

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science


of knowledge of certain details of the disposition of the heavenly
bodies. But with the advent of the Copernican
and Tychonic systems the sceptics hand is greatly


a general

of the form of the universe.



For if there are observationally-equivalent

doubt can be cast on the attainability




of knowledge

reply to the argument

that he may not fully have appreciated


His opening move is ingenious and economical.
Given that epicycles and eccentrics are inferred from, and successfully predict, the observed motions of
the celestial bodies, his adversaries should, he insists, either produce an alternative way of saving the phenomena
or concede
Otherwise they set a disastrous precedent:

the acceptability

of this one.

So if it is not right to infer from the appearances that eccentrics and epicycles are to
be found in the heavens, just because the true can be inferred from the false, the
whole of natural philosophy will tumble down. For, by the same token, whenever
from a known effect someone concludes that this or that is its cause, I can say: It is
not true, because from what is false one can derive what is true. And thus all the
principles of nature discovered by philosophers may be destroyed. Since this is absurd, it seems that the force and strength of our argument is not in fact undermined
by our adversaries.O
Given Clavius earlier claim that inference from observed effects is the only
route to knowledge of causes, and given a rejection of global scepticism, his
conclusion surely follows: there must be something wrong with his opponents
of premises
is dialectically
would have accepted his empiricist premise: There is nothing in
the intellect that was not first in the senses was, after all, a maxim of
scholastic philosophy.
And his opponents could scarcely refuse to concede his
denial of global scepticism in natural philosophy,
since their objection
epicycles and eccentrics was founded on absolute commitment
to the principles
of Aristotelian
Having established
by a neat transcendental
argument that there must be
something wrong with his opponents
the fallacy in it:




to diagnose

It should indeed be said that the rule of dialectic - What is true can follow from
what is false - is irrelevant. For what is true is not derived from what is false in the
same way as the phenomena
are saved by eccentrics and epicycles. In the former
case what is true is derived from what is false through the force of syllogistic form.
When we know the truth of any proposition,
false premises can be disposed in such
a way that through the force of the syllogism the true proposition
is necessarily

In Sphoeram, 435.

The Forging of Modern Realbm: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


concluded. Thus, because I know that all animals are sensitive, I can contrive the
following syllogism: All plants are sensitive; All animals are plants; So, all animals

are sensitive. But if I doubt the conclusion in any way, I shall never acquire from
false premises any certainty about it, even though it is correctly concluded through
the force of the syllogism. By means of eccentric orbs and epicycles, however, one
not only saves the appearances already perceived at some time, but also predicts
future ones whose time [of occurrence] is altogether unknown. Suppose, for example, that I am in doubt whether there will be an eclipse of the moon at the full moon
of January 1582. [By inference] from the motions of the eccentric orbs and
epicycles I am made entirely certain that there will be, so that I am no longer in

Clavius is successful in convicting his opponents of a false analogy. Contrivance of a syllogism with false premises and a true conclusion yields no new
knowledge; it has no predictive force. Postulation of a suitable arrangement of
epicycles and eccentrics, however, does have predictive force. Clavius concludes this phase of his argument as follows:
but it is not reasonable to suppose that we compel the heavens to obey the figments
of our minds, and that they move as we wish, or rather so as to conform to our
principles. Yet if eccentrics and epicycles are figments, as our adversaries would

have it, it appears that we do so compel them.

The implication is clear. Whilst yielding of already known conclusions does
not provide adequate grounds for acceptance of premises, yielding of successful predictions does provide such grounds. This conclusion, however, remains vulnerable to the extra weapon with which Clavius has armed his adversaries: the argument from observational-equivalence.
For inconsistent but
hypotheses have precisely the same predictive
Clavius attempt to counter the two alleged examples of observational
equivalence is somewhat diffuse. After a tendentious digression on Copernicus motives in setting up his paradoxical system he continues:
Moreover, it is far from being the case that eccentrics and epicycles are dispensed
with according to Copernicus doctrine. Given that this is so, they ought all the
more to be postulated. For astronomers think up these orbs because they perceive
quite surely from diverse phenomena that the planets are not always carried at a
constant distance from the earth. Indeed, Copernicus freely admits this. For according to his doctrine the planets always have inconstant distances from the earth, as
is evident from his placing of the earth away from the centre of the universe in the
third heaven. This alone can be inferred from Copernicus postulate: that it is not
altogether certain that the arrangement of eccentrics and epicycles is as Ptolemy
had it, because the same large number of phenomena can be saved in another way.
Nor do we attempt to persuade the reader of more than the following: that the
In Sphaemm, 435 - 436.



in H&tory and PhiIosophy of Science

planets are not carried at a constant distance from the earth. So, either there are eccentrics and epicycles in the heavens in the order in which Ptolemy placed them, or
there must at least be posited some equivalent cause of these effects using eccentrics
and epicycles. So if Copernicus postulate involved nothing false or absurd, there
would clearly be doubt whether one ought to adhere to Copernicus opinion or

Ptolemys on the question of how to save this kind of phenomena. But many absurd and erroneous things are contained in Copernicus postulate.
Clavius proceeds to detail the physical absurdities of Copernicus system. He
then counters the second example of observationally-equivalent
but inconsistent hypotheses:
Moreover, from the fact that Ptolemy saved the solar phenomena both by means of
an epicycle and by means of an eccentric, it follows only that it is not certain
whether the sun is carried by an epicycle or by an eccentric. But whichever is affirmed, it is clear that the sun has an inconstant distance from the earth, and is certainly not carried in a concentric orb, which is, as we have said, enough for our

Clavius is here successful in his primary aim, that of showing that the sceptics examples of inconsistent but observationally-equivalent
hypotheses fail to
cast doubt on the existence of epicycles and eccentrics. But such examples present a far more general challenge, casting doubt on the existence of adequate
criteria for deciding between inconsistent hypotheses. Clavius does not explicitly answer this challenge. However, he does make two points - that inconsistent hypotheses may have more in common than meets the eye; and that
predictive success does not provide the only criterion for choice between
hypotheses - which contain the germs of a general reply to the sceptic.

At the beginning of the first chapter of his Mysterium cosmographicum
Kepler announces:
I have never been able to agree with those who, relying on the example of an accidental demonstration which with syllogistic necessity yields something true from
false premises . . . , used to maintain that it could be that the hypotheses which
Copernicus adopted are false but nevertheless the true phenomena follow from
them as if from genuine principles.
rIn Sphaeram, 436 - 437.
2In Sphaemm, 437.
Johannes Kepler: Gesammelte Werke, W. van Dyck,
(Munich, 1938). I, 15 (hereafter cited as K.G. W. ).

M. Caspar


F. Hammer


The Forging of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


If we read epicycles and eccentrics for Copernicus hypotheses, this is

precisely the objection Clavius had attempted to answer. Here is Keplers
opening gambit:
In fact the example is inappropriate. For this outcome of false premises is fortuitous, and that which is false by nature betrays itself as soon as it is considered in
relation to other related matters (primurn alii atque alii rei cognatae accommodatur); unless you would willingly allow him who argues thus to adopt infinitely
many other false propositions and never, as he goes backwards and forwards [in his
arguments] (net unquam in progrew regressuque), to stand his ground.

As it stands, Keplers claim that false premises will always reveal their falsity
through evidently false consequences, like Clavius related claim that the warrant of truth in hypotheses is predictive power, is vulnerable to the sceptics
argument from observational equivalence. Kepler is aware of this, for he continues:
You might object as follows. It can be said with some truth to-day (and could have
been said with some truth in the past) that the ancient tables and hypotheses satisfy
the phenomena. Copernicus, nevertheless, rejects them as false. So, by the same
token, it could be said to Copernicus that although he accounts excellently for the
appearances, nevertheless he is in error in his hypotheses.

Keplers reply to the argument

parts. The first is extremely short:

from observational


has two

I reply, to start with, that the ancient hypotheses clearly fail to account for certain
important matters. For example, they do not comprehend the causes of the
numbers, extents and durations of the retrogradations, and of their agreeing so
well with the position and mean motion of the sun. Since in Copernicus their
regularity is made so beautifully apparent, there must be some inherent cause of all
these things.
We must be careful in interpreting this. Kepler is not denying the (near) observational equivalence of Ptolemaic and Copernican astronomy: rather he
claims that though both world-systems save the phenomena only the Copernican system comprehends the causes of, that is, explains, certain regularities
in the phenomena.
The second part of Keplers reply is more substantial:
Further, Copernicus denied none of the things in the [ancient] hypotheses which
K.G. W. 1, 15. The first bracketed clause could mean more specifically when it is combined
with other related premises.
I. 15.
1, 15.


Studies in H&tory and Philosophy of Science

give the cause of the appearances and which agree with observations, but rather meludes and explains all of them. Though he appears to have changed many things in
the accepted hypotheses, it is not in fact so. For it can happen that the same [conclusion] results from two suppositions which differ in species, because the two are
in the same genus and it is in virtue of the genus primarily that the result in question
is produced. Thus Ptolemy did not demonstrate the risings and settings of the stars
from this as a proximate and commensurate middle term: The earth is at rest in the
centre. Nor did Copernicus demonstrate the same things from this as a middle
term: The earth revolves as a distance from the centre. It sufficed for each of
them to say (as indeed each did say) that these things happen as they do because
there occurs a certain separation of motions between the earth and the heaven, and
because the distance of the earth from the centre is not perceptible amongst the fixed stars [i.e. there is no detectable parallactic effect]. So Prolemy did not
demonstrate the phenomena from a false or accidental middle term. He merely sinned against the law of essential truth (kathauto), because he thought that these
things occur as they do because of the species when they occur because of the
genus. Whence it is clear that from the fact that Ptolemy demonstrated from a false
disposition of the universe things that are nonetheless true and consonant with the
heavens and with our observations - from this fact I repeat - we get no reason
for suspecting something similar of the Copernican hypotheses. Rather, it shows
what I said at the outset, namely, that the Copernican principles, from which we
obtain the constant reason unknown to the ancients for so many phenomena, cannot, insofar as the reason is derived from them, be false.48

I take the central claim of this difficult passage to be that the Ptolemaic and
Copernican systems are nearly observationally equivalent precisely because
they are nearly kinematically equivalent. (Further Kepler is aware that for no
choice of finite parameters do they describe exactly the same relative motions,
hence the possibility of discrimination by a parallactic effect.) Though this
reading does succeed in providing Kepler with a coherent argument, it is liable
to the charge of textually-unwarranted and insensitive whiggish hindsight. The
reading requires us to interpret the genus to which both the Ptolemaic and
Copernican hypotheses belong, which is said to provide the basis from which
the appearances are demonstrated in both cases, as a hypothesis about
relative motions. The main internal evidence for this is Keplers claim that to
demonstrate the risings and settings of the stars it suffices to appeal to the
generic hypothesis that there is a certain motuum separatio between the earth
as separation,
and the heaven. Motuum separatio must be translated
divergence or antithesis of motions; but it can, I think, be glossed as differential or relative motion. The use of Aristotelian terminology in this
passage - proximate and commensurate middle term, in virtue of the genus
primarily, law of essential truth - diverges widely from that of its ultimate
KG. W. 1, I5 - 16. Though my translation of this hard passage departs from his on several
points, A. Koyrts free version in LP Rholution Astronomique (Paris, 1961). provided an invaluable start.

The Forging

of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


source, Aristotles Posterior Analytics. In an Appendix I seek to show that my

reading of the passage is confirmed by an analysis of the possible sources for
this at first sight puzzling use of terminology. Further support is provided by
the close similarity in context and content between this passage and a passage
in the Apologia, quoted and discussed in the next section,g in which Kepler
somewhat more explicitly relates observational equivalence to kinematic
Just as Clavius rounds off his argument by emphasising the physical
reasons for preferring the Ptolemaic system to the Copernican, so Kepler
rounds off this opening passage of the Mysterium by presenting some of the
more obvious physical grounds on which the Copernican system is to be
preferred, notably its greater simplicity and coherence. But though there is a
close structural parallel between the two rebuttals of scepticism, Keplers reply
is, on my interpretation, by far the more effective. For he argues convincingly,
along lines merely hinted at by Clavius, that the sceptics examples fail to
demonstrate that we do not have the capacity to make rational choices between
rival hypotheses. If our sole aim is to save the phenomena, we are not forced to
make such a choice. We can opt for the description of relative motions that is
common to the rivals. But if we insist on more, on an account of the form of
the universe which comprehends the causes of the phenomena, then there
are, he intimates, evidential grounds other than accuracy in saving the
phenomena on which a rational choice can be based. However, Keplers
primary aim here, like Clavius, is to defend one particular astronomical
system. Perhaps that is why, at the end of the passage cited above, he so
blatantly overstates his conclusion. At all events his reply still does not constitute a general answer to the sceptical challenge, the challenge to show that
we can always hope to find adequate grounds for choice between inconsistent

Keplers Apologia is composed with great artistry in accordance with the

rules for a judicial oration laid down by Cicero and Quintilian. In humanist
university curricula these rules, codified in such textbooks as Melanchthons
best-selling Erofemata dialectices (probably Keplers text at Tubingen), were
taught in the first-year arts course. Kepler follows them unswervingly. In each
chapter he adheres to the classical division into narration, account of the case,
proposition, statement of the main point at issue, confirmation, presentation
of arguments for ones own position, and refutation, demolition of ones opponents arguments. Though the purpose of the work as a whole is to vindicate
*See p. 163.


Studies in History

and Philosophy

of Science

Tychos claim to originality, Tycho does not appear as the defendant. Instead
it is hypotheses that are, metaphorically, in the dock (just as in Sir Philip
Sidneys Defence of Poesie, likewise a judicial oration composed on the
classical model, Poesie is the defendant).s0 Thus we are informed in the
preface that the aim is to obliterate the calumnies against the discoveries of
mathematicians [that is, hypotheses] impressed on the minds of patrons. And
in the first chapter the narration tells of Ursus defamation of hypotheses. So
where in the Mysterium Keplers brief is held for one particular set of
astronomical hypotheses, the Copernican, in the Apologia it is astronomical
hypotheses in general that are to be defended against misrepresentation.
The two main divisions of the first chapter, the confirmation and the refutation, are, as the rules of the game demand, very different in content and tone.
In the confirmation the tone is modest and the serious arguments in support of
Keplers own position are presented without much rhetorical embellishment.
In the refutation the tone is aggressive, witty and ironic. Ursus text is
dissected line by line and he and his witness Osiander are convicted of each of
the fallacies in the traditional list; equivocation, petitio principii, false induction, etc.5
It is the confirmation that is of primary interest to us. It opens with an
etymology and definition of the word hypothesis which need not detain us,
though two points about it deserve notice. This is a conventional opening gambit in a judicial oration in which the defendant is a thing, not a person. Further, appeal to the pristine usage of a word of the kind Kepler makes here, was
perfectly acceptable as a form of argument in the period. Kepler moves on,
again strictly in accordance with the rules, to consider next the species of
hypotheses, and then their proper nature (proprium).sz His argument under
this heading is evidently a response to the following passage in the Tractatus:
For it is the proper nature of hypotheses to inquire into, hunt for and elicit the
truth sought from feigned or false suppositions.
And so it is permitted and granted
to astronomers
as a thing conceded to astronomy
that they should fabricate
whether true or false and feigned, of such a kind as may yield the
and appearances
of the celestial motions and correctly produce a
method for calculating them, and thus achieve the intended purpose and goal of
this art.

%ze. K. 0. Myrick, Sir Philip Sidney us (I Lilerary Craftsman (Cambridge, Mass., 1935). I am
indebted to Dr. L. A. Jardine for this reference.
For Melanchthons account of the various fallacies of which one should seek to convict an op
nonent in the refututio of an oration. see 144.0.. XIII, cols 726-750. Such accounts derive
uhimately from Aristotles De sophbtiiis elenchh.
Melanchthon gives the following list of dialectical topics, headings under which any concep
tual issue should be discussed: 1. Definitio et definitum; 2. Genus; 3. Differentia,
Proprium; . . . : M.O., XIII, col. 663.
Tractatus, f.Biv,v.

The Forging of Modern Realkm: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


The reply is a tour de force. Before assessing it let us present it.

Kepler first elaborates the opening anti-sceptical move of the Mysterium, insisting that false hypotheses will always eventually betray their falsity through
some evidently false consequence.
As in every discipline, so in astronomy also, the things that we teach the reader by
drawing conclusions we teach seriously, and not in jest. So we hold whatsoever
there is in our conclusions to have been established as true. Moreover, for the truth
to be legitimately inferred, the premises of a syllogism, that is, the hypotheses,
must be true. For only when both premises are true in all respects and are made to
yield the conclusion by the rule of the syllogism shall we achieve our end: to make
the truth evident to the reader. And if an error has crept into one or other of the
premised hypotheses, even though a true conclusion may occasionally be obtained,
nonetheless, as I have already related in the first chapter of my Mysterium
cosmographicum, this happens only by chance, and not often, but only when the
error in the one proposition meets another proposition, whether true or false,
which is suitable for eliciting the truth. And just as in the proverb liars are cautioned to remember what they have said, so here, false hypotheses which together proi duce the truth by chance, do not, in the course of a demonstration in which they
have been applied to many different matters, retain this habit of yielding the truth,
but betray themselves. Thus it happens that, because of the linking of syllogisms in
demonstrations, given one mistake an infinite number follow. None of those whom
we celebrate as authors of hypotheses would wish to run the risk of error in his conclusions. So it follows, as I have said before, that none of them would knowingly
admit amongst his hypotheses anything liable to error. Indeed they worry not so
much about the outcome and conclusions of demonstrations, but more often about
the hypotheses they have adopted. Indeed, almost all notable authors to date assess
them on both geometrical and physical grounds, and want them to be confirmed in
all respects (undiquaque concifiatas).54

As in the Mysterium, Kepler proceeds to raise against himself the sceptical

argument from observational equivalence:
Why then, you may well ask, given that everyone demonstrates the same motion of
the heavens, is there nevertheless so great a diversity of hypotheses?

Unlike Clavius introduction of the argument from observational equivalence,

this is not a voluntary concession to the opposition. For Ursus had cited the
observational equivalence of Ptolemaic, Copernican and Tychonic systems as
grounds for scepticism, and had even claimed that contrivance of diverse
hypotheses which save the phenomena is an easy matter.
4Opera. I, 239 - 240. The proverb Mendaces memores esse oporrent is to be found in Quintilian, Instirutiones Oratoriae, IV,ii,91, and is discussed at length by Erasmus in his Adagia.
The most explicit of Ursus several allusions to the argument from observational equivalence is
in his preface (Tracfafus, f.Aiv.r). His claim that it is easy to contrive a variety of hypotheses
which save the phenomena is mocked by Kepler later in the Apologia (Opera, I, 246).


Studies in History and Philosophy of Science

Again as in the Mysterium, Keplers counter to the argument has two parts.
In the first part he seeks to convince us that there always exist adequate
grounds for choosing between observationally-equivalent
Certainly one should not suppose that it is because what is true customarily follows
accidentally from what is false. For, as I said before, in the long and tortuous
course of demonstrations through diverse syllogisms, such as are wont to occur in
astronomy, it can scarcely ever happen, and no example occurs to me, that starting
out from a posited false hypothesis there should follow what is altogether sound
and fitting to the motions of the heavens, or such as one wants demonstrated. For
the same result is not in face always obtained from different hypotheses, even when
someone relatively inexperienced thinks it is. The results obtained from the Copernican hypotheses were duplicated, with respect to the numbers, by Maginus from
different hypotheses designed to be as far as possible in agreement with the
Ptolemaic hypotheses. Do Copernicus and Maginus really offer the same things?
Far from it! Copernicus wanted also to demonstrate the cause of and necessity for
the greater proximity of the superior planets to the earth when they are in opposition to the sun, as well as wanting to represent their ensuing motions by numbers. I
here forbear to mention many further matters. And though some disparate
astronomical hypotheses may yield exactly the same results in astronomy, as
Rothmann boasted in his letters to D. Tycho of his own mutation of the Copernican system, nevertheless a difference between the conclusions often arises
because of some physical consideration. Thus even were Tycho to have elicited exactly the same numbers from his hypotheses as did Copernicus (Copernicus
numbers are, however, in error), nevertheless there would be this difference in intention between Tychos demonstrations and the Copernican demonstrations: for,
as well as wanting to predict the future motions of the heavens, Tycho wants to
avoid postulating the immensity of the fixed stars and certain other things that
Copernicus admitted into his hypotheses.5

Kepler concludes by suggesting that what holds for these observationally

equivalent but inconsistent hypotheses holds generally. Whenever hypotheses
conflict, grounds for a rational choice can be found provided we consider all
sources of evidence.
1 doubt indeed whether one will come across any hypothesis, either simple or complex, which will not turn out to have a conclusion peculiar to it and separate and
*40pe~u, I, 240. By numbers Kepler evidently means apparent celestial coordinates.
reference to Magini is to Novae coelesrium orbium theoricae congruenles cum observationibus N.
Copernici (Venice, 1589). in which an attempt is made to find Ptolemaic planetary models which
yield results in accordance with the Prutenic tables. The reference to Rothmann is to letters to
Tycho written in 1587 and 1588, and published in Tychos Epistolarum aslronomicorum
primum (Uraniborg, 15%). Here Rothmann, a Copemican, sketches his own inverted Copernican
system, designed to make the mathematical details of Copernicus planetary models more accessible, and asks Tycho to explain the difference between the Tychonic system and such inverted
Copernican systems. Ursus mentions Rothmanns system in the course of his claim that it is easy to
think up a variety of hypotheses which save the phenomena (Tructufu.~, f.Aiv.r; here as elsewhere
Ursus calls Rothmann Rotzmann, that is, sniveller, in retaliation for Rothmanns denunciation
of him as a plagiarist and dirty blackguard in the published letters to Tycho).


The Forging of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics

different from [the conclusions of] all the others. Even though for two hypotheses
the conclusions in the geometrical realm coincide, each hypothesis will have its own
peculiar corollary in the physical realm.
The second


of astronomical

The first example


of Keplers


he considers

of diurnal




the analysis

of observational

that he had offered

in the Mysterium.

is that of observational


of the earth and that of diurnal




of the

Well then, isnt it necessary for one of the two hypotheses about the primary motion (to take an example) to be false, either the one that says that the earth moves
within the heavens, or the one which has it that the heavens gyrate about the earth?
Certainly if contradictories cannot both be true at once, these two will not both be
true at once, but one of them will be altogether false. But by both means the same
conclusion about the primary motion is demonstrated. The same emergences of the
signs [of the zodiac] follow, the same days, the same risings and settings of the
stars, the same features of the nights. So does what is true follow from what is false
just as it follows from what is true? Far from it! For the occurrences listed above,
and a thousand others, happen neither because of the motion of the heavens, nor
because of the motion of the earth, considered as a motion of the heaven or of the
earth. Rather they happen because there occurs a separation between the earth and
the heaven on a path which is regularly curved with respect to the path of the sun
(separatio super tractu quodam, qui legitime ad viam Solis sit inflemcs), regardless
of which of the two bodies is responsible for that separation. So the aforementioned things are demonstrated from two hypotheses insofar as they belong to a single
genus, not insofar as they differ. Since, therefore, they are one for the purpose of
the demonstration, they do not differ. And even though a physical contradiction
inheres in them, that is entirely irrelevant to the demonstration. So this example
does not prove that what is true can follow both from what is true and from what is

In this passage



more unambiguously


in the Mysterium,

that the two hypotheses are observationally equivalent because they describe
the same relative motion. Neither the contorted way in which he makes the
claim, nor his failure to justify it, should surprise us. For though many
astronomers of the period (including Rothmann, Tycho, Vi&e and Kepler
himself) show a clear grasp of special cases of the principle of kinematic
relativity, no precise terminology for talking about relative motions was forged until the mid-seventeenth century; an explicit statement of the principle of
kinematic relativity can hardly be expected of Kepler. The second example
Opera, 1, 240.
8Opera, I. 240.
**On the gulf between articulation of a general principle of kinematic relativity and sixteenth
century astronomers appreciation of what later came to be regarded as special cases of the principle, see R. Palter, Some episodes in the history of Copernicanism.
in A. Beer and K. Aa. Strand,
Copernicus: Yesterday and Today (Vistas in Astronomy,
Vol. 17) (Oxford, 19751, 47 - 59.

Studies in H&tory and Philosophy of Science


that Kepler tackles is that of the observational equivalence, for suitable choice
of parameters, of a planetary model which uses a concentric with epicycle and
one which uses an eccentric. Here again he claims, in what to us may appear
devious language, that the observational equivalence arises because the two
hypotheses describe the same relative motion.
Keplers analysis of this second example is, however, significantly different
from that of the first example. For here he does not admit that there is a
physical contradiction between the rival hypothesis. Instead he writes:
And we certainly do not ascribe eyes and human reasoning to the planets, so that
they can mark a point here or there with compasses, and authors introduce those
specific views I have mentioned as conceits of their own, rather than for the sake of
explaining nature. Therefore neither the former nor the latter supposition is worthy
of the title astronomical hypothesis, but rather what is common to both of

This remark is far from clear. Yet it is, I think, crucial for the assessment of
Keplers argument. Fortunately, there is a passage later in the work in which
Kepler makes his point far more clearly. A letter from Osiander to Copernicus,
which Kepler quotes, contains the following declaration:
I have always been of the opinion that hypotheses are not articles of faith but bases
for calculation, so that even if they are false it does not matter provided they yield
the apparent motions exactly. For who could make us more sure that the unequal
motion of the sun comes about because of an epicycle rather than because of an eccentric, if we follow Ptolemys hypotheses, since it could come about in either way.

Here is Keplers reply:

There appears in these words of the author a clear equivocation on the word
hypothesis. For some hypotheses are said above to be, so to speak, small change,
scarcely worthy of the name, whereas others are said to be proper and truly
astronomical hypotheses. Thus when, in Osianders example, we determine and
report the part of the planetary circle which lies in one half of the circle of the
zodiac, it is worthy of the name hypothesis and cannot be changed or be
altogether false. But when we set up a method for calculating the ascents and
descents of a planet in those unequal parts, it can often be achieved in several ways,
and so we set up further hypotheses for the purpose of implementing that prior and
astronomical hypothesis: one by placing the centre of the planetary circle away
from the centre of the world, another by inserting an epicycle into a concentric. But
these, indeed, are not in themselves astronomical,
but rather geometrical
hypotheses. Thus if some astronomer says that the path of the moon has an oval
form, it is an astronomical hypothesis. But when he shows how a drawing of this sort
of oval can be constructed from circles he uses geometrical hypotheses . . . No600pera, I, 240.

The Forging of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


one is to be taken seriously who does not acknowledge and grasp this diversity in
Thus, for Kepler, the second of the sceptics examples of inconsistent but
hypotheses is a sham. A planetary model which
employs an eccentric and one which employs a concentric with epicycle are (for
suitable choice of parameters) merely different geometrical expressions of one
and the same underlying astronomical hypothesis.
Let us now turn from presentation to assessment of Keplers defence of
astronomy against the sceptic.
Keplers rebuttal of the sceptical argument from observational equivalence
has two main components. The first, merely adumbrated in the Mysterium,
but more fully developed in the Apologia, may be called the argument from
sufficiency of evidence. We may put it as follows. The sceptics examples are
supposed to cast doubt on our capacity to make warranted choices between inconsistent hypotheses. But they seem convincing only because astonomers
customarily ignore certain sources of evidence. In the Apologia Kepler
repeatedly lumps together all these other sources of evidence as physical considerations (argumenta physica or ration= physicae). He gives a small
number of specific examples. Thus Ptolemys recourse to the equant provides
physical evidence against his system; and the capacity of the Copernican and
Tychonic systems to explain rather than merely predict the fact that the
superior planets are closest to the earth when in opposition to the sun is
physical evidence in their favour. a1 Further, Kepler alludes in passing both to
the physical arguments in support of the Copernican system that he had offered in the Mysterium and to certain further arguments for it he has since
derived from his reading of Gilberts De magnete (1600).6J From this, we are, I
think, entitled to infer that when Kepler talks of physical considerations he has
in mind not only criteria of simplicity and coherence but also arguments based
on substantive tenets of theology, metaphysics and speculative dynamics. But
the Apologia itself conveys little impression of the richness and diversity of the
types of evidence he had deployed in the Mysterium and was to deploy in his
later works. The second component, again sketched in the Mysterium and
more fully developed in the Apologia, may be called the argument from common ground. It proceeds by showing that each of the sceptics examples of inconsistent but observationally equivalent hypotheses has the following properOpera,I, 246.
See the passagequoted on p. 162 and Opera, 1. 243.
lopera. 1, 243.

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science


ty. There is a third hypothesis, entailed by both, which yields the same observational conclusions.
Together, the argument from sufficiency of evidence and the argument from
common ground provide Kepler with a devastating rebuttal of the sceptics
specific examples. The sceptic thinks his examples show that in astronomy we
face choices between inconsistent hypotheses that cannot be settled on rational
grounds. Kepler demonstrates that he has shown no such thing. If our sole interest is in making predictions the choice can be evaded. For in each case we
can opt for a hypothesis which has the same predictive force and is entailed by
both the rival hypotheses. If, however, our interest is, as Kepler holds that it
ought to be, in portraying the true form of the universe, then in the cases in
which the hypotheses really are rivals, not merely different formulations of the
same hypothesis, evidential grounds other than predictive success are to be
found on which a choice can be based. But though Keplers two arguments
combine to crush the sceptics astronomical examples, they are of very different weights.
The argument from common ground is, quite obviously, not generally applicable in response to the argument from observational equivalence. For it is
not true that whenever inconsistent theories predict the same phenomena,
there exists a third theory entailed by both which predicts those phenomena.
Kepler was, I think, aware that this argument, whilst effective for the specific
purpose of refuting Osiander and Ursus, does nothing to answer the general
sceptical doubt about our capacity to choose correctly between inconsistent
hypotheses. For in the Apologia he ushers in the argument from common
ground as follows:
But authors are not always in the habit of taking account of that variety in physical
matters, and they themselves very often confine their own thinking within the
bounds of geometry or astronomy and consider the question of equipollence of
hypotheses within one particular science, ignoring the diverse outcomes which
weaken and destroy that vaunted equipollence when one takes account of related
sciences. Given that this is so, it is proper that we too should adapt our argument
and reply to their manner of speaking [my italics].6

In other words the argument is primarily designed to show up an internal weakness

in the position of his opponents, those who confine their thinking within the
bounds of geometry or astronomy, rather than to establish his own position.
The argument from sufficiency of evidence, however, constitutes a quite
general strategy for rebuttal of the sceptic. Crucial for this strategy is the
distinction between the substantive and conventional components of a theory,
the distinction which Kepler makes in distinguishing true astronomical
hypotheses from the various geometrical hypotheses which may be used to
express them. For this distinction makes it plausible to claim that every case in
which there appear to be no grounds for choice between rival hypotheses is of
0pera, I, 240.

The Forging of Modern


Clavius and Kepler Against

the Sceptics


one of two kinds. Either: The hypotheses are not really inconsistent. They
have the same content, but employ different conventions to express it. Or: The
hypotheses are not really evidentially equivalent. With sufficient ingenuity
grounds for a rational choice can be found.
In the Apologia we have, of course, only a special case of the argument;
Kepler is concerned with astronomical hypotheses, not hypotheses in general.
Further his argument is seriously incomplete; no detailed categorisation of the
types of non-observational criteria he takes to be available for the resolution
of theoretical conflict is offered, nor is there any attempt to justify such
criteria as truth-linked. But limited in scope and incomplete though his argument is, it remains a remarkable performance, anticipating the response of
such twentieth-century
realists as Reichenbach to the most direct of all
arguments against scientific realism, the argument from observational


The traditional realist attitude to astronomical hypotheses can, at the risk of

a little over-simplification,
be summarised as follows. An ideal system of
astronomical hypotheses would be one which saves the phenomena impeccably
and which does so by describing a cosmos of a kind warranted by the principles of physics and metaphysics. Only if astronomers were in possession of
such hypotheses would they be entitled to claim knowledge of the structure of
the universe. Such a view is compatible with a wide range of views on the status
of the hypotheses which have been, or are likely to be, proposed by
astronomers. For example, there is the view, by the end of the sixteenth century a minority view, that though the Ptolemaic system is false, a system based
on homocentric spheres which would satisfy these criteria could be devised.
Another minority view is that expressed in Georg Horsts unpublished lectures
on spherical astronomy, namely, that the Ptolemaic system satisfies these
criteria for knowledge.85 Finally there is the sceptical and pragmatic view,
perhaps prevalent in classical times, and, if I am right, widespread at the time
Kepler wrote, according to which hypotheses satisfying these stringent criteria
are unlikely to be attained in astronomy, so that the practical astronomer is
well-advised to use whatever models best serve the practical business of computation and prediction.

HBrst Tractatur in arithmeticam logisticam wittebergae privatim propositum (ms., 1604,

quoted inDuhem, Phenomena, % - 97).


Studies in History and PhiIosophy of Science

Characteristically the sceptic sets stiff conditions for belief to count as

knowledge. The traditional realist position, enforcing as it does the
Aristotelian dichotomy of belief into epist2m2, certain apprehension of first
principles and their consequences, and doxa, mere acceptance of the probable,
plausible or widely accepted, plays right into his hands. Clavius and Kepler, in
countering the sceptic, blur this sharp distinction. Clavius often uses the terms
scientiuand opinio in their traditional senses. But he supposes that to quash
sceptical doubts about the existence of epicycles and eccentrics it suffices to
show that the phenomena can be saved thereby, and that they are not inconsistent with the established principles of physics (which he is prepared to interpret
with considerable latitude). Their existence is then credibilis, that is, worthy
of trust.Oe Likewise, in the Apologia Kepler does, on occasion, claim that parts
of astronomy, for example the order of the distances of the outer planets, are
certain or beyond doubt.O Nevertheless, the ideal of astronomical
knowledge he there sets up is not that of apodeictic truth, but rather of hypotheses confirmed in all respects (undiquaque conciliafae), both by their
capacity to save the phenomena and on physical grounds.
In the Apologia this vision of knowledge in astronomy as, at least in part,
conjectural is linked to another vision that is remarkable for the period, that of
the history of astronomy as evincing a cumulative growth of knowledge. One
of Ursus arguments proceeds by induction on the falsity of all past
astronomical systems. O*Kepler replies as follows:

And, because no more appropriate way has yet been found than that which saves all [the
phenomena] through epicycles and eccentrics, it is indeed credibile that the celestial spheres are
composed of orbs of this kind, In Sphaeram, 435. The unfamiliarity of Clavius stance is confirmed by the way in which it was misunderstood by the sceptic Francisco Sanchez. In a letter of cu
1589 Sanchez, who had clearly read the passages I have cited quite carefully, attributes to Clavius
both the view that certainty is not attainable in astronomy and the view that epicycles and eccentrics are figments of the mind. Evidently, despite Clavius claim to the contrary, he took it that to
concede that we cannot be certain of the existence of epicycles and eccentrics ir to concede their
fictional status. See. J. Iriarte-Ag, Francisco Sanchez, el Esceptico disfrazado de Carneades en
discusi6n epistohu con Crist6bal Clavio. Gregoriunum. 21(1940), 413 - 45 1. Clavius assessment
of Ptolemaic astronomy is close to Aristotles assessment of his own version of Cahppus
homocentric system: And thus it is reasonubfe ro suppose that there are just this number of immobile substances and principles - the statement of necessity may be left to more competent
thinkers [my italics], Metuphysics, X11:8, 1074a 23 - 24. Many points of phrasing in Clavius account suggest that he consciously emulates Aristotles cautious approach to celestial matters.
On the basis of Keplers anti-sceptical argument in the Mysterium. however, one might well
credit him with full adherence to the traditional distinction. For in answer to doubts about the
Copemican system he not only asserts that part, at least, of Copernicus account cannot be false,
but also claims that the entire system can be demonstrated upriori. The force and intent of these
remarks is open to question, for they are accompanied by other over-stated claims for the Copernican system which Kepler must have known to be misleading, for example,, the claim that it
relieves nature of the intolerable burden of so great a number of epicycles.
Iv0 Schneider, Wahrscheinlichkeit und Zufall bei Kepler, Philosophiu Nuturulk, 16 (1976).
40 -63, argues that in Keplers later works there is developed a quite sophisticated view of the
relative probabilities of hypotheses in the light of evidence.
Tractatus. f.Biv,v.

The Forging of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


Fifthly, he despairs of [finding] true hypotheses in astronomy, holding everything

to be uncertain, in the Pyrrhonian manner. Noone denies that there are still some
flaws in even the best constructed astronomy, and hence in the hypotheses also.
That is why to-day there is still so much labour expended on repair. But no one
would say that all the rest is uncertain. Ptolemy discovered by means of astronomy
that the sphere of the fiied stars is furthest away, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars follow in
order, the sun is nearer than them, and the moon nearest of ah. These things are
certainly true and consonant with the form of the universe. Ptolemy also
postulated too great an ascent and descent of the moon. Regiomontanus and
Copernicus perceived that from this hypothesis there follows something false and
discordant with the apparent magnitude of the moon. So they said that the moon
does not make such great jumps up and down. And who doubts that this is the way.
things are in the heavens? And who, 1 ask, but a melancholic and despairing person
would have doubts about the ratios of the diameters of the earth, sun and moon?
Thus to-day there is practically no one who would doubt what is common to the
Copemican and Tychonic hypotheses; namely, that the sun is the centre of motion
of the five planets, and that this is the way things are in the heavens; though in the
meantime there is doubt from all sides about the motion or stability of the sun.
Given that so many such things have already been established in the realm of
physical knowledge (in physica scientia) with the help of astronomy, things which
deserve our trust from now on and which are truly so, Ursus despair is

If Keplers interpretation of the history of astronomy is correct the tables are

turned on Ursus. Far from providing grounds for despair, an induction on the
succession of astronomical systems provides grounds for an expection of further growth of knowledge in astronomy.
Keplers vision of knowledge in astronomy as cumulative and in part
hypothetical, a vision on which his rebuttal of Ursus scepticism hinges,
justifies the claim made earlier that, far from adhering to a traditional realist
position, he forges in response to the sceptic a new kind of realism which has
an extraordinary air of modernity. Yet this air of modernity, which led von
Prantl to see in the Apologia an exposition of inductive methodology in sharp
contrast to the fantasies of the Mysterium and Harmonice, is, I think, partly an illusion. To redress the balance of interpretation, I shall, in conclusion,
sketch a strategy for relating Keplers stance in the Apologia to the
epistemology of the Mysterium and Harmonice.
The answer to the sceptic offered in the Apologia is both incomplete and
potentially very misleading. It is incomplete because no systematic account is
offered of the types of criteria other than success in saving the phenomena that
are germane to the choice between rival hypotheses, and because no attempt is
made to justify the assumption that such criteria are truth-linked. It is potenOpera,
I, 243. The reference to Regiomontanus is to Epytoma in Almagestum
(Venice, 14%), V, Prop. 22. The reference to Copernicus is to De revohtionibus, IV:2.
K. von Prantl, lot. cit. (fn. 2).



Studies in H&tory and Philosophy of Science

tially misleading because the few explicit examples of such criteria which
Kepler gives are readily assimilated to the modern categories of simplicity and
consilience of inductions, so that Kepler can all too easily be taken to be promoting an empiricist hypothetico-deductive
methodology. There is good
reason for Keplers reticence about the criteria for choice of theory. Keplers
views on the nature and justification of the physical criteria by which
theoretical disputes may be resolved were forged in the specific context of
defence and emendation of the Copernican system. But the Apologia is a
defence of Tycho, and Kepler, whilst he evidently felt himself free to declare
his adherence to a Copernican system, scrupulously refrains throughout the
work from actively promoting Copernicanism. It is a measure of his restraint
that, though he alludes to arguments he could give on behalf of Copernicus,
he spells out only arguments which support both the Tychonic and the Copernican systems against the Ptolemaic.
One possible way of relating the content of the Apologia to Keplers
epistemology as a whole is to ask - How can Kepler justify his repeated assertion that even when observational evidence fails physical evidence sufficient
to discern true from false hypotheses in astronomy can always be found?
Kepler, indeed, invites the request for justification, for twice in the Apologia
he draws attention to the fact that quite different physical considerations
seem compelling to different men.* And the Apologia even contains a hint of
the way in which he might answer the question. For at the beginning of the
first chapter he alludes to that illumination of our mind which most especially
thrives on geometrical figures, but also on other things, generally, and without
which there would be nothing of which the mind could have cognition.
Behind this remark we may, if we so choose, see elements of Keplers theology
and metaphysics. For Kepler it is because the Creator reproduced a part of His
essence both in the human mind and in the created world that the human
mind is possessed of an illumination through which knowledge of the hidden
form of the cosmos is attainable. It is because God created both the human
mind and the world as a geometer that the minds illumination most especially
thrives on geometrical figures, and hence can hope to resolve theoretical
disputes through apprehension of the geometrical harmony of the dispositions
and motions of the cosmos through which the Creator partially reveals His
essence. These commonplace aspects of Keplers metaphysics suffice to indicate how he would justify one of the types of physical consideration that he
took to be crucial for the resolution of theoretical disputes.7 But the divine
Opera, I, 243 and 261.
Opera, I, 238-239.
The remark occurs in the course of Keplers
hypothesis was originally coined to describe the self-evident principles of
Keplers theological
and its historical context are explored
time in an important
recent work of J. Hitbner. Die Theologie Johannes
fhodoxie und Narurwissenschaft

claim that the term

in detail for the first
Keplers zwischen Or-

The Forging of Modern Realism: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


ground of the harmony of disposition of the cosmos constitutes but a single

strand in the web of Keplerian metaphysics, and it may well be that grounds
for many of the physical considerations to which Kepler appeals are to be
found without appeal to his theology. For example, in a detailed study of the
methodology of Keplers Paralipomena ad Vitellionem, Buchdahl suggests
that many of Keplers metaphysical tenets, notably his belief in the existence of
a natural classification of the entities in the universe, in the existence of
analogies between the laws which govern the various kinds of things, and in
principles of coherence, economy, and sufficient reason, are to be understood
along Kantian lines, not as substantive principles of construction employed by
a divine architect, but rather as regulative principles, principles whose acceptance is a condition for the possibility of successful scientific research.75 These
and many other issues would have to be studied in detail in any attempt to
relate the polemical arguments of the Apologia to the epistemology of Keplers
more metaphysical writings, but they are beyond the scope of this paper.
In conclusion, I suggest that the first chapter of the Apologia can profitably
be read as a programme for the defence of realism in the mathematical
sciences. It is a programme of great originality, containing elements to which
many modern realists subscribe. Further, the programmatic defence of realism
of the Apologia may provide a good starting point for the exploration of the
epistemology of Keplers later works, an epistemology which can be seen as a
realisation of that programme. Such an exploration would surely deprive the
Apologia of some of its apparent modernity; but it would, I think, reveal a rational strategy behind parts of Keplers natural philosophy that are apt to appear alien to the point of incomprehensibility.

G. Buchdahl, Methodological aspects of Keplers theory of refraction, Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci.
3 (1972). 265 - 298.


Studies in History


and Philosophy


of Science


The ultimate source of the Aristotelian terminology in this passage is the Posterior Analytics.
According to Aristotle the proximate cause of an effect (in a later Aristotelian terminology the
commensurate universal) is that which is, as a matter of necessity, present when and only when
the effect is present. Demonstration of the reason (4podeU tou diotr) for an effect is achieved by
a syllogism whose middle term specifies its proximate cause. Take, for example, the following

Heavenly bodies which are near the earth do not twinkle;

The planets are near the earth;
So, the planets do not twinkle.
This is for Aristotle a demonstration of the reason, since ne4mes.s to the e4rth is the proximate
cause of not twinkling in the subject he4venIy bodies. Such demonstration is to be carefully
distinguished from demonstration of the fact (4~odeZs tou hoti) in which, though the premises
are true, the middle term does not specify the proximate cause (Past. AMI.. 1:13). Aristotles
distinction is most naturally interpreted as a distinction between demonstrations which have explanatory force and those which do not. But, in practice, Aristotle offers many explanations which
cannot be cast in the form of an 4podeU tou dioti, and it is a moot point whether he considered
adherence to this exceedingly stringent scheme a necessary condition for explanation. For our purposes it suffices to note that he was taken to have done so by the majority of mediaeval and
renaissance commentators (see N. Jardine. Galileos road to truth and the demonstrative regress,
Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 1 (1976), 277 -318, for an account of some renaissance elaborations of
Aristotles theory of demonstration). Earlier in the work Aristotle gives a more general account of
the conditions a demonstration must satisfy. In particular he requires that the major premise of a
demonstrative syllogism be true essentially (kothouto) as opposed to accidentally (kato
sumbe&kds); that is, the predicate must specify an essential, not an accidental attribute of the
subject (Post. An4f., I, 3 - 5). Though the precise interpretation of this distinction is, and was in
the renaissance, a matter for controversy, it is clear that Aristotle took demonstration of the
reason for an effect to satisfy this criterion.
Keplers use of this terminology is far removed from Aristotles Thus, Aristotles account applies to simple syllogisms, whereas Kepler is concerned with complex geometrical deductions. Further, in Aristotles account a middle term is a predicate and a cause a state or disposition of a
body. If my reading is correct, Kepler calls hypotheses middle terms and treats such complex
states of affairs as systems of absolute and relative motions as causes. How is this bold extrapolation of Aristotles terminology to be explained?
To start with there is a significant basis for Keplers extrapolation in Aristotles text. One of the
various ways Aristotle lists in which the rule of truth k&houto can be violated is by use of a
specific predicate in a demonstration where the generic predicate would suffice. For example, the
rule is violated by one who appeals to the fact that a figure is an isosceles triangle in order to show
that its angles sum to two right angles, when it suffices to appeal to the fact that the figure is a
triangle. (Post. An41.. 1:4). In Aristotles terminology the premise all isosceles triangles have
angles equal to two right angles is said not to be primary @tit-os). It is with an analogue of this
kind of violation that Kepler charges Ptolemy in terms which clearly echo Aristotle%. To save the
phenomena, Kepler claims, it suffices to appeal to the genus of relative motion, for it is in virtue of the genus primarily that the result in question is produced [my italics]; Ptolemy, however,
appeals unnecessarily to the species of absolute motion. Further, there is a clear classical precedent for the application of Aristotles technical terminology to extended geometrical reasoning in
Proclus Commentary on the First Book of Euclids Elements (first published in Latin translation
in 1505, and subsequently in 1533 and 1560). Finally there is a clear renaissance precedent for
Keplers free interpretation of Aristotles rule of essential truth in Ramus dialectical writings.
There Aristotles rule is presented as a stipulation that nothing irrelevant to the purpose of an art
or science should be included by the teacher in presenting it (see W. J. Ong, Romus, Method, and
the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, Mass., 1958) 258 - 262, for an account of Ramus version of
Aristotles rules of demonstration). Keplers charge against Ptolemy is precisely that for the purpose of demonstrating the phenomena consideration of absolute motions is irrelevant.
Was Kepler conversant with these sources? He had certainly read the Posterior Analytics. In the
Apo/ogia he refers to Aristotles writing on demonstration (Opem, 1, 239) and later he claimed
that at Tubingen he had read the work carefully (Max Caspar, Kepler, London and N.Y ., 1959,

The Forging of Modern Real&m: Clavius and Kepler Against the Sceptics


44). The appeal to Keplers possible use of Ramus and Pro&s is, however, problematic. Kepler
never cites Ramus dialectical works, and his earliest reference to Proclus commentary is in a letter of September. 1599 to Herwart von Hohenberg (K.G. W., XIV, 63). Further, given Proclus
remarks on the role of the Platonic solids as an archetype, remarks which Kepler duly cites in the
Hurmonice, it seems unlikely that he would have failed to cite the work, had he read it, in the
Mysterium. A likely source both for Keplers conversancy with Ramus reinterpretation of Aristotles rule of truth kuthauto and for his conversancy with Pro&s views on the nature of
demonstration is Ramus controversial and influential Prooemium mathematicarum (Paris, 1567).
(For a detailed account of the impact of this work see J. J. Verdonk, Petrus Rumus en de
Wiskunde, (Assert, 1966.) A revised version of this forms Books I-III
of the Scholae
muthemuticue (EIasel, 1569), and Kepler refers to this edition in a letter to Mastlin of 1597
(K.G. W., 111, MO), and in several subsequent letters. In Book III, an attack on Euclids
unmethodical presentation of geometry, Ramus presents Prcclus views on the nature of
geometrical demonstration, and attributes to Proclus his own version of Aristotles rule of truth
kuthuuto: Then he [Proclus] declares that he [the geometer] will set out matters which are
cognate and of the same kind, nor will he teach anything foreign or superfluous . . . This is the
kuthuufo, per se, of Aristotle (op. cit., 80):

*I acknowledge with gratitude the helpful comments of Dr. Geoffrey Lloyd,

Mr. Gerd Buchdahl and Dr. Robert S. Westman, and the advice on points of
translation of Dr. Anthony Grafton and Dr. Lisa Jardine.