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1 The Decline of Medieval Disputation Culture and the ‘Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory’

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Chapter Summary

The Wittenberg scholars confined themselves to extract certain astronomical data from Copernicus's work and to consider it a mere mathematical model that enabled them to render the celestial motions in a more accurate way. Westman called this phenomenon the 'Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory'. Erasmus Reinhold and Philipp Melanchthon played a pivotal role in establishing this tradition. Adequate as the term 'Wittenberg Interpretation' is to describe the reception of Copernicus's theory in the second half of the sixteenth century, it contains a major shortcoming, as it is rather the description of an effect than of a cause. The question that must be raised is why the Wittenberg astronomers and natural philosophers were so reluctant to discuss Copernicus's cosmological and physical theses. The thesis is the decline of the medieval culture of disputation that prevented vivid discussion of Copernicus's cosmological theses within university circles.

Keywords: Copernican Theory; Erasmus Reinhold; medieval disputation culture; Philipp Melanchthon; Wittenberg



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