We question the claim, common since Duhem, that sixteenth century astronomy, and especially the Wittenberg interpretation of Copernicus, was instrumentalistic rather than realistic. We identify a previously unrecognized Wittenberg astronomer, Edo Hildericus (Hilderich von Varel), who presents a detailed exposition of Copernicus’s cosmology that is incompatible with instrumentalism. Quotations from other sixteenth century astronomers show that knowledge of the real configuration of the heavens was unattainable practically, rather than in principle. Astronomy was limited to quia demonstrations, although demonstration propter quid remained the ideal. We suggest that Oslander’s notorious preface to Copernicus expresses these sixteenth century commonplaces rather than twentieth century instrumentalism, and that neither ‘realism’, nor ‘instrumentalism’. in their modern meanings, apply to sixteenth century astronomy.
Skip Nav Destination
September 01 1998
Realism and Instrumentalism in Sixteenth Century Astronomy: A Reappraisal
University of Oklahoma
Bernard R. Goldstein
University of Pittsburgh
Online Issn: 1530-9274
Print Issn: 1063-6145
©1998 by The University of Chicago. All reserved.
The University of Chicago. All reserved.
Perspectives on Science (1998) 6 (3): 232–258.
- Share Icon Share
- Views Icon Views
- Search Site
Peter Barker, Bernard R. Goldstein; Realism and Instrumentalism in Sixteenth Century Astronomy: A Reappraisal. Perspectives on Science 1998; 6 (3): 232–258. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/posc_a_00550
Download citation file: