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The Copernican Principle, Part II

Page history last edited by Peter Ramberg 15 years, 7 months ago

Summary of Today's Topic



The second half of the Scientific Revolution is characterized by the ideas of Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Bernard Le Bovier De Fontenelle, and Christiaan Huygens. Also during the 17th century atomism regains popularity.



Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was the first philosopher of modern philosophy and the first of the 17th century to provide a replacement for the Aristotelian theory of cosmology. His most significant theories were those of infinite matter and space and the theory of vortices. He was hesitant in supporting the doctrine of the plurality of worlds, but still formulated a system of the cosmos that could be supporting of that doctrine (Crowe). He denied the existence of empty space, explained the orbits of the planets, and declared that vortexes of matter swirled around the sun. Uniquely Descartes urged people to not think all things were made for terrestrials.  Descartes was also unique in the degree of skepticism he embraced. Throwing away everything he'd learned through formal education and experience, he questioned the reality and truth of everything he'd known until he was left with one statement, "I think therefore I am." He came up with a proof for the existence of God, and came to the conclusion that size, shape, and matter are the only real properties of an object: everthing else--heat, color, texture--are only a product of human perception. He also believed there is no such thing as 'empty space.' The universe is made up of material. Therefore he equated matter with space and said that both were infinite.



Isaac Newton (1642-1727) Developed the 2nd major new cosmology, replacing the Cartesian model in the 17th century. He was an atomist, famous for his discovery of universal gravitational attraction or “gravity”. His theory that all pieces of matter have this universal attraction power explained the orbits of the moons and planets.  He also showed that events such as comets followed similar laws, which was impressive due to their irregular occurance.  According to Newton, gravity was not consistant across the Earth; the equators buldged while the poles were flattened, proven using the pendulum experiment.  Unlike Descartes, Newton's theories included the ideas of empty space and a vacuum within space.  His system united celestial and terrestrial physics for the first time. 



Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) Was a convinced Copernican and was one of the most brilliant mathematicians and scientists of the 17th century. During his later years of life he wrote Pensees (Thoughts). Within this book he speaks little of his actual position towards extraterrestrial life, but focuses on his feelings of the new theories of the century. He wrote exstensively of the vastness of the universe, "We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere" (Crowe, 69).



Bernard Le Bovier De Fontenelle (1657-1757) is the author of the extremely popular Entretiens sur la pluralite des mondes (Conversations of the Plurality of Worlds). It was translated into each of the European languages. The book is unique because of it's format is that of a converstaion between a philosopher and a countess. Fontenelle uses this format with purpose of providing an easily understood explanation of the Descartesian theory.  In this book he purposes a wide variance of extraterrestrial life based on their relative closeness to the sun.  He says that inhabitants on Mercury are insane from experiencing too much heat from the sun and Venusians were little black people scorched with the sun, lively and loved music.  As one traveled further from the sun, the more sluggish the inhabitants became, such as those from Jupiter who were slow and less witty.



Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) is author of The Celestial World Discover’d. Huygens theorized that the material surrounding of other planets are different, but that they are fundamentally the same as Earth. He used this to predict the similarities among extraterrestrials and humans, including the same senses and organs. He also believed that they must use the same types of instruments and techniques involving geometry as humans. At the same time, he rejects atomic theory, believing that it's too atheistic. According to Huygens, God designed everything with a purpose.



Primary Sources



Key Terms, Definitions, and People

Teleology: The study of purpose, reason. (Kepler's argument for Jupiter's four moons was a teleological argument)


 Jovians: Inhabitants of Jupiter



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