« Qui choisirait de poser ce flambeau dans un lieu autre ou meilleur que celui d’où il peut illuminer le tout simultanément ? » : examen de la pertinence d’un argument copernicien de convenance

Revue des Questions Scientifiques 189 (4):409-458 (2018)
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Abstract
In what is quite possibly the most famous passage of the De revolutionibus, Copernicus implies that nobody could ever place this supreme flaming torch that is the Sun in another or better place than that from which it can illuminate everything simultaneously, namely the centre of this extremely beautiful temple that is our world. Considering the fact that he leaves an interrogatory twist to this argument of convenience, and since he makes this statement without any justification as it seems entirely evident to him, certain Copernicans choose to illustrate this by means of an analogy: if indeed the Sun must be positioned thus, it is because the most appropriate place for the torch intended to illuminate the room is at its centre, and not in one of its corners. Despite the heliosophy of the Renaissance having been shared by both geocentrists and Copernicans alike, this "torch" argument does not appear to have achieved much success: rarely adopted by the Copernican camp, it was even contested by some of them; as for the geocentrists, it held no appeal for them whatsoever. Did this argument of convenience therefore not benefit from the self-evidence attributed to it by Copernicus, and from, in his wake, it's continued support by a good many commentators? As is often the case when it comes to the history of thought, the pseudo-obviousness of this argument is merely the fruit of a blatant anachronism: presenting heliocentrism as the cosmological system that finally grants the Sun its worthy centrality by placing it in the centre of the room and not in a corner, is to ignore the fact that this star of the day already enjoyed, in geocentrism, a centrality esteemed to be perfectly in keeping with both its dignity and its inherent illuminative function. Having lost their grasp on this worldview that no longer belonged to them, the Copernicans thus put forward an argument which, for the geocentrists, is worthless. Yet they could have argued the objective superiority of their centrality over that accorded to the Sun by geocentrism: while the latter is only numerical, on a purely planetary scale, and frankly fictitious, the former is thoroughly spatial, of cosmic proportions and, at least on first approximation, very real. In order to produce arguments of convenience that could carry their own weight, the protagonists of the new cosmology would have benefited from getting to know the world vision of their adversaries a little better instead of addressing them from their own point of view; similarly, instead of treating as an obvious fact that which is only evident to one of the two parties present, historians of scientific thought would also be well advised to have a better understanding of the world vision of those who history now considers as the losers!
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Archival date: 2019-12-18
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