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Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought

By: Thomas S Kuhn

315 pages, 59 figs

Harvard University Press

Paperback | Jul 1990 | #51045 | ISBN: 0674171039
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NHBS Price: £21.95 $29/€25 approx

About this book

For scientist and layman alike this book provides vivid evidence that the Copernican Revolution has by no means lost its significance today. Few episodes in the development of scientific theory show so clearly how the solution to a highly technical problem can alter our basic thought processes and attitudes. Understanding the processes which underlay the Revolution gives us a perspective, in this scientific age, from which to evaluate our own beliefs more intelligently. With a constant keen awareness of the inseparable mixture of its technical, philosophical, and humanistic elements, Mr. Kuhn displays the full scope of the Copernican Revolution as simultaneously an episode in the internal development of astronomy, a critical turning point in the evolution of scientific thought, and a crisis in Western man's concept of his relation to the universe and to God. The book begins with a description of the first scientific cosmology developed by the Greeks. Mr. Kuhn thus prepares the way for a continuing analysis of the relation between theory and observation and belief. He describes the many functions--astronomical, scientific, and nonscientific--of the Greek concept of the universe, concentrating especially on the religious implications. He then treats the intellectual, social, and economic developments which nurtured Copernicus' break with traditional astronomy. Although many of these developments, including scholastic criticism of Aristotle's theory of motion and the Renaissance revival of Neoplatonism, lie entirely outside of astronomy, they increased the flexibility of the astronomer's imagination. That new flexibility is apparent in the work of Copernicus, whose DEREVOLUTIONIBUS ORBIUM CAELESTIUM is discussed in detail both for its own significance and as a representative scientific innovation. With a final analysis of Copernicus' life work--its reception and its contribution to a new scientific concept of the universe--Mr. Kuhn illuminates both the researches that finally made the heliocentric arrangement work, and the achievements in physics and metaphysics that made the planetary earth an integral part of Newtonian science. These are the developments that once again provided man with a coherent and self-consistent conception of the universe and of his own place in it. This is a book for any reader interested in the evolution of ideas and, in particular, in the curious interplay of hypothesis and experiment which is the essence of modern science. Says James B. Conont in his Foreword: "Professor Kuhn's handling of the subject merits attention, for... he points the way to the road which must be followed if science is to be assimilated into the culture of our times."

An illuminating account of the intellectual transformation which laid the foundations of modern science and philosophy, and which may therefore be said to have created the modern world. Scientific American No other book is so patient, so comprehensive, so sensitive, in its recovery of the experience and the outlook from which the older scientific theories emerged. No other book so enables us to see the intellectual hurdles that existed and to relive something of the process of actual scientific discovery. American Historical Review In this study of the Copernican Revolution, [the author] brings to a common focus the considered approach of the historian, the technical understanding of the scientist and the skill and experience of an able teacher. No careful reader of this well-wrought volume can fail to appreciate the nicely balanced interplay of these elements in the full explication of one of the major turning points in the evolution of scientific thought. For those concerned with the teaching of the history of science, Dr. Kuhn's discussion of the issues involved in the Copernican Revolution will prove to be indispensable, a superb analysis of the "anatomy of revolution." Those drawn to the question of meaning which the historian of science can give to the evolution of ideas will find this book equally valuable, a paradigm of synthesis and interpretation. Isis


Foreword by James Bryant Conant Chapter 1: The Ancient Two-Sphere Universe Chapter 2: The Problem of the Planets Chapter 3: The Two-Sphere Universe in Aristotelian Thought Chapter 4: Recasting the Tradition: Aristotle to the Copernicans Chapter 5: Copernicus' Innovation Chapter 6: The Assimilation of Copernican Astronomy Chapter 7: The New Universe Technical Appendix References Bibliographical Notes Index

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