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Regiomontanus on Ptolemy, Physical Orbs, and Astronomical Fictionalism
24.06.2021 Michael H. Shank
Astronomy
Regiomontanus

To honor Bernard Goldstein, this article highlights in the “Defense of Theon against George of Trebizond” by Regiomontanus (1436–1476) themes that resonate with leading strands of Goldstein's scholarship. I argue that, in this poorly-known work, Regiomontanus's mastery of Ptolemy's mathematical astronomy, his interest in making astronomy physical, and his homocentric ideals stand in unresolved tension. Each of these themes resonates with Gold-stein's fundamental work on the Almagest, the Planetary Hypotheses, and al-Bitruji's Principles of Astronomy.

I flesh out these tensions with an intriguing interpretation of the history of astronomy, in which Regiomontanus contrasts the two-dimensional “eccentric astronomy” attributed to the Almagest and the Arabs with the three-dimensional spheres of the “later” astronomers. A similar contrast reappears when Regiomontanus portrays as a “fictitious art” an astronomy that does not go beyond the accommodation of computations to the appearances. To conclude, I use Regiomontanus's expression to reinstate (pace Goldstein and Barker in this journal, 1998) fictionalism as an actor's category in Osiander and sixteenth-century astronomy.

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