Throughout history, scientific discoveries have revolutionized well-established principles. In 1543, Copernicus’ case for a heliocentric universe highlighted the irrationality of Aristotelian and Ptolemaic geocentrism. Over three hundred years later, the Darwinian theory of evolution questioned the rigidity of species. Einstein’s relativity, first proposed in 1905, challenged Newtonian physics. These radical breakthroughs share key similarities: each was distinct from the collective sum of human knowledge, overcame staunch opposition, and eventually transformed the self-conception of humanity. Many philosophers of science have examined the controversial relationship between this pattern and truth. In contrast to many scientists who object to any universal standards, theorists such as Badiou, Kuhn, and Lakatos help identify the conditions necessary for a new theory to be justifiably deemed scientific truth. Through a focus on the Copernican Revolution, this project aims to defend some of the basic stances of these theorists. The Copernican Revolution properly exemplifies three parameters for scientific truth: namely, Kuhn’s paradigm shift based on an irregular event beyond established scientific knowledge, Lakatos’ emphasis on the importance of rational argumentation by the followers of a new scientific finding, and Badiou’s notion of the expression of scientific truth through formal mathematics.
The Copernican Revolution reveals scientific truth because it reflects Kuhn’s idea of a paradigm shift rooted in a discovery that counters the structural logic of a socio-historical epoch. Before the publication of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, astronomy was directed by Ptolemy’s geometrical model of the universe. But as Hallward’s contemporary theoretical explication of Kuhnian philosophy points out, “The incoherence of Ptolemaic astronomyaˆ¦was widely recognized as a problem well before Copernicus developed his theory” (Hallward 210). This perspective mirrors Kuhn’s analysis of the revolutionary nature of authentic scientific discovery; Kuhn maintains that scientific anomalies form a site from which reality itself can be reconstructed. However, he also holds that anomalies created by the proliferation of antithetical observations are inadequate for a rejection of a predominate paradigm: “The decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another” (Kuhn 77). In other words, the upheaval of prevailing scientific tenets is not linear progress, but instead a rupture that necessitates a “whole reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals” (85). As such, like the Copernican Revolution forces a choice between heliocentrism and geocentrism, scientific discovery compels scientists to either accept or reject a new proposal. The Copernican Revolution indeed illuminates scientific truth because it caused a Kuhnian paradigm shift after a radical break from the thought of the 16th century.
In addition to representing a fundamental break from the accepted norms of the 1500s, the gradual acceptance of the Copernican universe exemplifies Lakatos’ conception of the dissemination of universal truth through the rational discourse of its followers. Shortly before his death, Copernicus was the first person to argue for the existence of a heliocentric universe. Yet the most crucial representative of the Copernican Revolution is the astronomer Galileo, who overcame his fear of public scrutiny to advocate the Copernican hypothesis. Despite strong religious persecution against him, Galileo used telescopic observations and mathematical analyses to forcefully defend heliocentrism against its critics. The work of Lakatos, while somewhat critical of Kuhn, “emphasizes the active, historically specific process of argument and counterargument, the process of struggle at work in the elaboration of a new scientific theory” (Hallward 211). It suggests that the acceptance of a new discovery is as much a “subjective as an objective one, as much a matter of persuasion as of pure evidence or logic” (211). Bolstered by a “vast protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses” (Lakatos 4), a “research programme” (4) requires near-constant creativity. As the work of Copernicus and Galileo suggests, rational advocacy is an essential component to the advancement of scientific truth.
The Copernican Revolution not only unveils flashes of scientific truth because of its expansion of collective understanding and insistence on reasoned analysis, but also because of its Badiouian reliance on mathematical invention. In reference to physical science, Badiou professes a radical theory: “Physicsaˆ¦is mathematical because, as the theory of the most objectified strata of the presented as such, it necessarily catches hold of being-as-being through its mathematicity” (Hallward 213). Because scientific inquiry starts at an “absolute distance from any knowledge acquired through sensory or imaginary intuition” (213), mathematics is, Badiou suggests, the science of ontology and the real. Thus, “only pure mathematicsaˆ¦can provide science with its true methodological foundation” (213). Copernicus and Galileo initially promoted a heliocentric universe based on empirical observations. Their fidelity to their discoveries was surely progressive, but, as Hallward maintains, “In order to confirm, after Copernicus, the as yet unperceived truth of the solar system-that the earth indeed rotates around the sun-Galileo required the invention of something else, a purely formal supplement to that situation: [Newton’s] differential calculus” (210). Although partially resolved by Kepler’s laws, and developed further by Galileo, the problem of planetary motion was finally solved by Newton. This series of advancements showcases how the perception of new scientific observations needs a mathematical supplement in order for it to qualify as truth. Indeed, as the Copernican Revolution’s reliance on formal mathematics illustrates, the Copernican hypothesis should be considered an expression of universal truth.
The Copernican Revolution demonstrates three conditions for scientific truth: Kuhn’s paradigm shift beyond established knowledge, Lakatos’ emphasis on rational debate by the followers of a new scientific breakthrough, and Badiou’s conviction about the expression of scientific truth through formal mathematics. The courage of Copernicus and Galileo, two men who stood against the grain of the world, should be a model for all scientists. Their discoveries also serve as a reminder that despite all prevailing wisdom, there will always be truth beyond humankind’s grasp. Rather than merely commend the scientific discipline’s systematized web of facts, scientists should instead approach their work with a fundamental suspicion of all commonly held beliefs. Only this perspective remains true to the humbling realization that we are all infinitesimal and finite beings in an infinitely large and expanding universe.