Cosmography, Realist Copernicanism and Systematising Strategy in the Principia Philosophiae

  • John SchusterEmail author
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 27)


Having completed our reconstruction of the trajectory of the young Descartes, from physico-mathematician, in 1619, to systematic mechanistic natural philosopher, in 1633, one more step is required to round off our inquiry. His Principia Philosophiae contains the mature statement of his system of natural philosophy. Therefore, our study of how Descartes matured as a natural philosopher can only be properly closed through an analysis of the Principia and comparison of it to Le Monde. The present Chapter explicates previously little noticed, but daring and masterful new moves in pro-Copernican systematization that Descartes executed in the Principia. Descartes’ systematizing strategy focused upon weaving ranges of novel matters of fact—concerning sunspots, novae and variable stars, and the structure and formation of all planets—into explanatory and descriptive ‘cosmographic’ narratives with cosmic sweep and radical realist Copernican intent. It is this vast system–binding gambit of Descartes, entraining the use and reframing of key, available matters of fact—in turn leveraged into explanatory resources within the system—that best characterises the natural philosophical difference between Le Monde and the Principia.


Matter Theory Element Theory Variable Star Central Star Natural Philosopher 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Works of Descartes and Their Abbreviations:

  1. AT  =  Oeuvres de Descartes (revised edition, 12 vols.), edited by C. Adam and P. Tannery (Paris, 1964–1976). References are by volume number (in roman) and page number (in Arabic).Google Scholar
  2. SG  =  The World and Other Writings, edited and translated by Stephen Gaukroger (Cambridge,1998).Google Scholar
  3. MM  =  René Descartes, The Principles of Philosophy, translated by V. R. Miller and R. P. Miller (Dordrecht, 1991).Google Scholar
  4. MSM  =  Rene Descartes, Le Monde, ou Traité de la lumière, translated by Michael S. Mahoney (New York, 1979).Google Scholar
  5. CSM(K)  =  The Philosophical Writings Of Descartes, 3 vols., translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch, and (for vol. 3) Anthony Kenny, (Cambridge, 1988) References are by volume number (in roman) and page number (in arabic).Google Scholar
  6. HR  =  The Philosophical Works of Descartes, vol I translated by E.S. Haldane and G.R.T. Ross (Cambridge, 1968 [1st ed. 1911]).Google Scholar


  1. Aiton, E.J. 1972. The vortex theory of planetary motion. New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications.Google Scholar
  2. Biro, Jacqueline. 2006. Heavens and earth in one frame: Cosmography and the form of the earth in the scientific revolution. Unpublished MA thesis, School of History and Philosophy of Science, University of New South Wales.Google Scholar
  3. Biro, Jacqueline. 2009. On earth as in heaven: Cosmography and the shape of the earth from Copernicus to Descartes. Saarbrucken: VDM Verlag.Google Scholar
  4. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1975. The specificity of the scientific field and the social conditions of the progress of reason. Social Science Information 14: 19–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brody, Judit. 2002. The enigma of sunspots: A story of discovery and scientific revolution. Edinburgh: Floris Books.Google Scholar
  6. Bullialdus [Bouillau], Ismael. 1667. Ad Astronomos Monita Duo. Paris.Google Scholar
  7. Clarke, Desmond. 2006. Descartes, a biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Daniel, Gabriel. 1692. A voyage to the world of Cartesius. London: Thomas Bennet.Google Scholar
  9. Dear, Peter. 1995. Discipline and experience: The mathematical way in the scientific revolution. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dear, Peter. 2001. Revolutionizing the sciences: European knowledge and its ambitions, 1500–1700. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dijkstra, Arjen. 2011. A wonderful little book. The Dissertatio Astronomica by Johannes Phocylides Holwarda (1618–1651). In Centres and cycles of accumulation in and around the Netherlands during the early modern period, ed. Roberts Lissa, 73–100. London: LIT Verlag.Google Scholar
  12. Donahue, William. 2006. ‘Astronomy’ in the Cambridge history of science. In Early modern science, vol. III, ed. Park Katherine and Daston Lorraine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Drake, Stillman. 1957. Discoveries and opinions of Galileo, Trans. and ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  14. Dreyer, J.L.E. 1890. Tycho Brahe. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.Google Scholar
  15. Fabricius, David. 1612. Prognosticon astrologicum auff das Jahr 1615. Nürnberg, J. Lauer: Landtrachtinger.Google Scholar
  16. Fabricius, Johann. 1611. De Maculis in sole observatis, et apparente earum cum sole conversione, narratio. Witebergae.Google Scholar
  17. Frischlin, N. 1573. Consideratio nouae stellae. Tubingen.Google Scholar
  18. Galileo Galilei. 1613. Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti. Roma.Google Scholar
  19. Galileo, Galilei. 1953. Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems. Trans. S. Drake. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  20. Galileo, Galilei. 1957. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Trans and ed. Stillman Drake. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  21. Garber, Daniel. 1992. Descartes’ metaphysical physics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Gassendi, Pierre. 1658. Opera Omnia. Repr., 1964, Stuggart. 6 vols. Lyon.Google Scholar
  23. Gaukroger, S.W. 2002. Descartes’ system of natural philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gemma, Cornelius. 1573. De peregrina stella. Antwerp.Google Scholar
  25. Goldstein, T. 1972. The renaissance concept of the earth in its influence upon Copernicus. Terrae Incognitae 4: 19–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Granada, M.A. 2007. Michael Maestlin and the new star of 1572. Journal for the History of Astronomy 38: 99–124.Google Scholar
  27. Grant, E. 1984. In defense of the earth’s centrality and immobility: Scholastic reaction to Copernicanism in the seventeenth century. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 74: 20–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gualterotti, Raffael. 1605. Discorso sopra l’apparizione de la nuova stella. Firenze.Google Scholar
  29. Harrison, Peter. 2000. The influence of Cartesian cosmology in England’ in Descartes. In Natural philosophy, ed. S. Gaukroger, J.A. Schuster, and J. Sutton, 168–92. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Heidarzadeh, Tofigh. 2008. A history of physical theories of comets from Aristotle to Whipple. Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heilbron, John. 1979. Electricity in the 17th and 18th centuries: A study of early modern physics. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  32. Holwardus, Johannes Phocylides. 1640. Panselenos, …id est dissertatio astronomica. Franekerae.Google Scholar
  33. Hoskin, Michael A. 1977. Novae and variables from Tycho to Bullialdus. Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin und der Naturwissenschaften 61: 195–204.Google Scholar
  34. Kepler, Johannes. 1938ff. Gesammelte Werke, ed. M. Caspar. Munich: Beck.Google Scholar
  35. Kuhn, T.S. 1959, 1st ed. 1957. The Copernican revolution. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  36. Licetus, Fortunius. 1623. De novis astris et cometis. Google Scholar
  37. Love, Rosaleen. 1975. Revisions of Descartes’ matter theory in Le Monde’, British Journal for the History of Science 8: 127–37. Repr., in René Descartes, critical assessments. vol. 4. Ed. Georges J.D. Moyal. London: Routledge, 163–174.Google Scholar
  38. Lynes, John W. 1982. Descartes’ theory of elements from Le Monde to the Principles. Journal of the History of Ideas 43: 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McRae, R.F. 1991. Cartesian matter and the concept of a world. In René Descartes, critical assessments, vol. IV, ed. J.D. Georges, 153–162. New York: Moyal.Google Scholar
  40. Malapertuis, C. 1633. Austriaca sidera. Duaci.Google Scholar
  41. Marius, Simon. 1619. Astronomische und astrologische Beschreibung des Cometen…1618. Nürnberg.Google Scholar
  42. Minnaert, Marcel. 1993. Light and color in the outdoors. Trans. and Rev. L Seymour. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  43. Randles, W.G.L. 2000. ‘Classical models of world geography and their transformation following the discovery of America,’ in Geography. Cartography and Nautical Science in the Renaissance. The Impact of the Great Discoveries. Aldershot:5–76.Google Scholar
  44. Reeves, Eileen and Albert van Helden, Trans. and ed. 2010. Galileo Galilei and Christoph Scheiner: On sunspots. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  45. Reisacher, B. 1573. De mirabili novae ac splendidissimae stellae. Vienna.Google Scholar
  46. Roger, Jacques. 1973. La Théorie de la Terre au XVII Siècle. Revue d’Histoire des Sciences 26: 23–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Scheiner, C [under the pseudonym of Apelles]. 1612. Tres epistolae de maculis solaribus. Augustae Vindelicorum, Marcus Welser.Google Scholar
  48. Scheiner, C. 1630. Rosa Ursina, sive, sol ex admirando facularum et macularum suarum phaenomeno. Bracciani.Google Scholar
  49. Schuster, John. 2002. L’Aristotelismo e le sue Alternative. In La Rivoluzione Scientifica, ed. D. Garber, 337–357. Rome: Instituto della Enciclopedia Italiana.Google Scholar
  50. Schuster, J.A. 2009. Descartes—Philosopher of the scientific revolution; or natural philosopher in the scientific revolution. Journal of Historical Biography 5: 48–83.Google Scholar
  51. Schuster, J.A., and Graeme Watchirs. 1990. Natural philosophy, experiment and discourse: Beyond the Kuhn/Bachelard problematic. In Experimental inquiries: Historical, philosophical and social studies of experimentation in science, ed. H.E. Le Grande, 1–47. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  52. Shapin, Steven. 1982. History of science and its sociological reconstructions. History of Science 20: 157–211.Google Scholar
  53. Snel, Willebrord. 1619. Descriptione cometae anni… 1618. Lugduni Batavorum.Google Scholar
  54. Tacke, J. 1653. Coeli anomalon. Gissae Hassorum.Google Scholar
  55. Tarde, Jean. 1620. Borbonia Sydera. French trans. (1623). Paris.Google Scholar
  56. Terpstra, H. 1981. Friesche Sterrekonst. Franeker.Google Scholar
  57. Tycho Brahe. (1916) Tychonis Brahe Dani Opera omnia. vol.3 Ed. J.L.E. Dreyer. HauniaeGoogle Scholar
  58. Tycho Brahe. 1969. Tycho Brahe his Astronomicall coniectur of the new and much admired [star] which appeared in the year 1572. Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Repr., New York: Da Capo Press.Google Scholar
  59. Vermij, R. 2002. The Calvinist Copernicans. The reception of the new astronomy in the Dutch Republic, 1575–1750. Amsterdam Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen.Google Scholar
  60. Westfall, Richard S. 1971. The construction of modern science: Mechanisms and mechanics. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  61. Wolf, Rudolf. 1861. Die Sonne und ihre Flecken. Zürich.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Campion CollegeSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Unit for History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations