Kepler's Philosophy and the New Astronomy

By Rhonda Martens | Go to book overview

6
Kepler and Ptolemy

Kepler's imagination was captured in 1599 by the idea that planetary motion could be explained by harmonic theory. He wrote letters to Edward Bruce (who was associated with Galileo), Herwart von Hohenburg, and Michael Maestlin about a harmonic theory that predicted planetary delays better than the nascent physical theory in chapter 20 of the Mysterium (KGW XIV 7–16, 21–41, 43–59).1 He also requested that von Hohenburg send him a copy of Ptolemy's Harmonics, though he found it to be a frustratingly bad Latin translation. He did not receive the Harmonics in its original Greek until 1607 (Stephenson 1994, 37). He was struck by the similarity between his thought and Ptolemy's, despite being separated from Ptolemy by both astronomical theory and many centuries:

[M]y appetite was particularly intensified and my purpose stimulated by the
reading of the Harmony of Ptolemy.… There I found unexpectedly, and to my
great wonder, that almost the whole of his third book was given up to the same
study of the celestial harmony, one thousand five hundred years before. Yet at
that period much was still lacking in astronomy, and Ptolemy, by an unfortunate
attempt, might have brought others to despair. … he seemed to have related
some pleasant Pythagorean dream rather than to have assisted philosophy; but I
was emphatically strengthened in the pursuit of my purpose, on the one hand by
the crudity of the ancient astronomy, and on the other by the actual agreement,
precise in every detail, of both views, after an interval of fifteen centuries. …
This identity of conception, on the conformation of the world, in the minds of
two men who had given themselves wholly to the study of nature, was the finger
of God, to borrow the Hebrew phrase, since neither had guided the other to
tread this path. (HM, 390–91; KGW Vl, 289)

Kepler and Ptolemy agreed that harmonic ratios could be found in both the heavens and human soul. Ptolemy believed that the soul's harmonic ratios explained its sensitivity to music and astrological influences. Indeed, he recommended the study of astronomy as a means of understanding and improving the human soul (Taub 1993).

Kepler mentioned his outline for his study of world harmonies in a letter to von Hohenburg (December 14, 1599; KGW XIV, 100):

-112-

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Kepler's Philosophy and the New Astronomy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Tables ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Abbreviations of Works Frequently Cited xiii
  • Introduction 3
  • 1: Kepler's Life and Times 10
  • 2: The Mysterium Cosmographicum and Kepler's Early Approach to Natural Philosophy 39
  • 3: Kepler's Apologia 57
  • 4: Kepler's Archetypes and the Astronomia Nova 69
  • 5: The Aristotelian Kepler 99
  • 6: Kepler and Ptolemy 112
  • 7: The Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae 142
  • Conclusion - The Fate of Kepler's Philosophical Thought 169
  • Notes 177
  • Bibliography 191
  • Index 199
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