Prezentarea textelor Cosmologie 2

Philosophical cosmology: essential readings


1. Francis Bacon, Thema coeli (A theory of the heavens), OFB VI 173-193

Bacon’s Theory of the heavens is a short ( and unfinished) essay on cosmology; perhaps the most speculative and metaphysical text of an author who openly professed an anti-speculative attitude. It has been suggested that TC was not planned to be a self-standing text, but was designed to be the speculative textual companion of a more characteristic Baconian composition, namely DGI (Descriptio globi intellectualis – A description of the intellectual globe OFB VI). Both TC and DGI date from 1611. The date is relevant; in 1610, Galileo Galilei had published his Sidereus nuncius, announcing to the world that the sky looks entirely different if seen through the telescope. DGI and TC represent an interesting, early reception of Galileo’s discoveries. They mention Jupiter’s satellites, the stars of the Milky Way and the sunspots. Bacon attempts to integrate all these discoveries into a very different cosmological framework. The foundation of Bacon’s theory of the heavens is a very interesting pneumatic and vitalistic matter theory, of which TC gives perhaps the best expression. Bacon’s cosmology has been called semi-Paracelsian (by Graham Rees); and it certainly worth seeing why. The original TC is in Latin and was published posthumously in 1658. There are two modern English editions; one is in volume V of SEH (see the list of abbreviations at the end) the other in OFB. They differ in substantial points. The OFB edition also contains the Latin and hence will be our standard text. Neither of the two editions is a critical edition properly speaking, although OFB contains a certain amount of historical and explicative references.

Further readings:

Manzo, Silvia. “The Arguments on Void in the Seventeenth Century: The Case of Francis Bacon.” The British Journal for the History of Science 36, no. 1 (2003): 43-61.

Rees, Graham. “Atomism and Subtlety in Francis Bacon’s Philosophy.” Annals of Science 37 (1980): 549-71.

———. “Matter Theory: A Unifying Factor in Bacon’s Natural Philosophy.” Ambix 24 (1977): 110-25.


2. Bacon, De principiis atque originibus… (On the principles of Cupid and the Coelum), fragments, OFB VI 225-267

Bacon’s De principiis is a posthumous writing (first published in 1658); Graham Rees calls it “one of Bacon’s most unscrutable works” (OFB VI xxix). It pretends to be an interpretation of the myth of Cupid in the same vein as Bacon’s earlier De sapientia veterum (On the wisdom of the ancients- Despre intelepciunea anticilor) – and is based on the same claim that ancient myths and fables are ways of communicating a fundamental, ‘original’ wisdom. Cupid is taken to represent the fundamental “atom” (in the sense of the fundamental building block of the universe, not necessarily material) – of which all things in Universe are made. The question is, of course, how is one to represent such a fundamental principle? And what is the role of Cupid in the creation of the Universe? However, De principiis departs from the model in three ways: First, it contains an interesting and quite detailed critique of various philosophical schools (and reads, here and there, as a history of philosophy). Second, it contains Bacon’s detailed exposition of Bernardino Telesio’s philosophy of nature. Third, by commenting on Telesio (and Parmenide), Bacon is clearly constructing his own philosophical cosmology. The proposed fragment contains a discussion of these cosmological principles. There are a number of interesting things in the proposed fragment: from Bacon’s vitalist interpretation of “atoms” and “atomism” (in terms of primordial appetites) to his discussion of the compatibility between (any form of ) cosmological and the text of the Scriptures.

Further reading:

Hartmann, Anna-Maria. “Light from Darkness: The Relationship between Francis Bacon’s Prima Philosophia and His Concept of the Greek Fable.” The Seventeenth Century 26, no. 2 (2011): 203-20.

Weeks, Sophie. “Francis Bacon and the Art-Nature Distinction.” Ambix 54 (2007): 101-29.


3. Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, Century I (fragments  ), Century IV (SEH II 459-460), Century IX (fragments….)

Sylva Sylvarum or a natural and experimental history in ten centuries is the title of a volume which appeared in print a couple of weeks after Bacon’s death. The bulk of the volume contains of a large collection of one thousand items called “experiments” and ranged in ten “centuries” (groups of 100). The rest of the volume contains Bacon’s scientific utopia, New Atlantis (and later editions also contain other pieces of Baconiana). This composite volume was one of Bacon’s best-sellers in the seventeenth century but it is largely forgotten today. Scholars, baffled by the centuriate organization of the book and by the diversity of experiments, have often considered Sylva to be a contingent collection of primary material; a sort of laboratory notebook that was hastily put together somewhere in 1626 and published posthumously in order to encourage an experimental attitude. Other scholars (among which some members of our project) claim that what all the experiments of Sylva have in common is Bacon’s peculiar matter theory. They believe we can find in Sylva Bacon’s otherwise well hidden theories about the pneumatic and vitalist nature of matter. What makes this book interesting for our course is that it has many fragments illuminating Bacon’s extremely peculiar cosmology. Such are, for example, Bacon’s discussion of transmutation (of tangibles into pneumatics, of species, of metals, of watery into oily etc.), the influence and “radiation” of celestial bodies, the nature and powerful effect of hot and cold  (what he calls “the two hands of nature”), the primordial appetites of matter and the sympathies (attractive “forces”) at work in the universe; the “perception” of bodies etc.

There is no modern edition of Sylva Sylvarum. The edition in use is the Victorian edition realized by James Spedding (hereafter SEH) which is heavily tributary to 19th conception of experimental science and highly critical of Bacon’s “experiments.”

Further readings:

Colclough, David. “‘The Materialls for the Building’: Reuniting Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum and New Atlantis.” Intellectual History Review 20 (2010): 181-200.

Giglioni, Guido: “Mastering the appetites of Matter: Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum,”  in Charles T. Wolfe and Ofer Gal, eds., The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge: Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 25 (2010), 149-67.

Rees, Graham: “Un Unpublished Manuscript by Francis Bacon: Sylva Sylvarum Drafts and Other Working Notes,” Annals of Science 38/4 (1981), pp. 377-412.

Rusu, Doina-Cristina: From Natural History to Natural Magic: Francis Bacon’s Sylva sylvarum, PhD dissertation, Radboud University Nijmegen (2013).


4. Bacon, Cogitationes de natura rerum/Cugetări despre natura lucrurilor in Francis Bacon, The Works, ed. Spedding, vol. III, 1859, p. 15-35, English translation in V 419-439

This is a very interesting early text – altough it was only published posthumously (in 1658), it circulated in manuscript (and we have quite a number of manuscript copies, in different hands, all dating from the same period – namely from the years 1603-5). The main point of interest of the text resides in the fact that it contains Bacon’s strongest defense of a philosophical atomism. Bacon’s attitude towards atomism seems to have suffered certain variations during his career (unlike his constant and staunch negation of the presence of any kind of vacuum in the universe). Apart from the question of atoms and atomism, the text treats of the fundamental concept of Baconian physics/cosmology (appetites, virtues, simple and compound motions). It is one of Bacon’s speculative texts.

Further reading

Manzo, Silvia. “The Arguments on Void in the Seventeenth Century: The Case of Francis Bacon.” The British Journal for the History of Science 36, no. 1 (2003): 43-61.

Rees, Graham. “Atomism and Subtlety in Francis Bacon’s Philosophy.” Annals of Science 37 (1980): 549-71.


5. Boyle, A free inquiry into the vulgarly received notion of nature, ed. Hunter &Davies, CUP

In his A free inquiry, Boyle deals with the different early modern meanings ascribed to “nature.” On the one hand, Boyle is concerned with the notion, as it has been discussed by the tradition. On the other hand, Boyle is interested in uncovering the relation between nature and God. Thus, the treatise is interesting in both respects, as a text giving account of some of the most important cosmological views that were discussed before the Scientific Revolution, and as a text that provides a thorough discussion of the magnificent things that one finds in the world; things that suggest a divine origin. Moreover, Boyle often uses the metaphor of the world as a clock, which gives new support to his arguments for an intelligent design.

Further reading:

Anstey, Peter. 2000. The Philosophy of Robert Boyle. Routledge.

Boyle, Robert. 1999-2000. The complete works of Robert Boyle. ed. Michael Hunter. 14 volume. Cambridge University Press.

  1. Thomas Burnet, A sacred theory of the earth…
  2. Herschel, John Frederick William. A treatise on astronomy. Vol. 55. Printed for Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1851.


6. Hooke, Robert, An attempt to prove the motion of the Earth from observations, London: 1674 (găsiți ediția originală online aici: )

Hooke’s treatise is remarkable in several respects. It deals with the problem of the motion of the Earth and attempts to solve it through observation. Thus, Hooke announces that it would be possible to prove the Copernican theory (which he discusses in comparison with the theory advanced by Tycho) by a contrived observation of the stellar parallax. This observation is detailed in his treatise: a vertical telescope, with a good magnification, would solve the problem of atmospheric refraction and allow the observer to notice the variation in time of the position of a given star. Another important aspect of this treatise is the careful description of the instrument. Not least, the treatise ends up with three so-called “suppositions” that greatly anticipate Newton’s later theory, including a principle of universal attraction.

Further reading:

Siebert, Harald. 2005. The Early Search for Stellar Parallax: Galileo, Castelli, and Ramponi. Journal for the History of Astronomy 36, part 3 (124): 251-271.

Hirshfield, Alan. 2013. Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos. Courier Dover Publications, pp. 144-148.


7. Huygens, Christiaan. 1757. Cosmotheoros or conjectures concerning the planetary Worlds and their inhabitants written in latin by Christianus Huygens. Glascow: Rob. (see also


8. Kant, Immanuel, and Stanley L. Jaki. “Universal natural history and theory of the heavens.” Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1981. 1 (1981).


9. de Maupertuis, Pierre-Louis Moreau. Essais de cosmologie. 1751. (text sugerat: Avant-propos, Les preuves de l’existence du Dieu tiree de le merveilles de la nature) găsiți o ediție online pe si o alta aici:


10. De Maupertuis, Pierre-Louis Moreau, et. All, La figure de la terre déterminée par les observations de Messieurs de Maupertuis, Clairaut, Camus, Le Monnier et Outhier accompagnés de M. Celsius, Paris: 1739  (Preface – găsiți o ediție superbă aici: Traducere engleză de secol XVII aici:


11. Newton, A hypothesis of light (see Newton Project)


12. Newton’s correspondence with Burnet (Remus Manoila)


13.  Sacrobosco, Tractatus de sphera (pentru cine stie latina, editia Clavius si/sau editia cu prefața lui Melanchthon); o editie aici :

Johannes de Sacrobosco (c. 1195 – c. 1256) was a scholar linked with the University of Paris who wrote a textbook presentation of the received cosmological knowledge (based on Aristotle and Ptolemy). Under the name Tractatus de Sphaera (On the Sphere of the World), this introduction to cosmology became the standard textbook in astronomy in all the European universities for the next four hundred years. What was published under the name of Sacrobosco, particularly after 1500, became a compilation of the original text and several additions (corresponding to various new “discoveries” and slight changes done by the astronomy of the day). However, the structure of the textbook remained basically the same: the book begins with a section on the shape of the world – the sphere, the axis and poles of the world; the second chapter discusses the various regions and zones of the world (equatorial, equinoxial, arctic etc.). The third section some circles, the top of which being occupied by the supercelestial circle; the third section discusses the zodiac and the celestial influences. Combining metaphysical ideas and mathematical practices Sacrobosco offers a general, introductory account of how the Ptolemaic universe looked like. This was its main appeal; and the major reason why the book remained a compulsory reading up to Galileo’s time. There are numerous editions of De sphaera; but there is no standard, modern edition. The only English translation is the one by Lynn Thorndike, 1949 (see further reading).

Further reading:

L. Thorndike’s translation, 1949:

O. Pedersen, ‘In quest of Sacrobosco’, Journal for the History of Astronomy 16 (1985), pp. 175-221


14. Reichenbach, Hans. The direction of time. Vol. 65. Univ of California Press, 1991. (pp. 19-27)

Hans Reichenbach (1891–1953) is one of the most influential philosophers of science in the 20th century. He is well known for his strong commitment to an empiricist philosophy of science, which shaped his view upon scientific methodology and other topics common to epistemology and metaphysics that he treated in his works. Two such important philosophical problems are analyzed in his late work The Direction of Time (1956), that is time and causality. His main concern in this book is to contribute to the understanding of a paradox mostly coming from statistics, namely how is it possible to accommodate the common intuition that macroscopic processes are irreversible with the view that microscopic processes are reversible, as described by the laws of classical mechanics. Reichenbach thus proposes different accounts of the direction of time, an issue with relevance for cosmology and famously proposes the “principle of the common cause”. Roughly put, this principle says that if it is improbable for two events to occur at the same time, their actual occurrence must be due to a common cause. This principle shortly became a standard topic for discussion in the philosophy of science and nowadays discussions in philosophy of physics still refer to it. The book also discusses the status of time in statistical mechanics and the identity of particles in quantum mechanics through time.

Further reading:

Salmon, W., 1979, Hans Reichenbach, Logical Empiricist, Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

Uffink, J., 1999, “The principle of the common cause faces the Bernstein paradox”, Philosophy of Science, 66: S512-S525.


15. Wilkins, John, A discovery of a new world, or a discourse tending to prove, that ‘tis probable there may be another habitable world in the moon, London 1631, Propositions VI-XI (o foarte buna editie online aici: )

Wilkins’ text is a most remarkable critical assessment of the rational, philosophical, historical and empirical arguments in favor of believing that the Moon is a Planet like the Earth. It is interesting for a number of reasons: because it shows an impressive range of readings and a good commandment of sources (ancients and moderns, philosophical and astronomical, including good knowledge of Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Kepler, Campanella, Apologia); because it displays an interesting dialectical argumentation (popular at the time) and the complex intertwine between scholastic and empirical arguments; for its fierce critique of the traditional Aristotelian cosmology. The book is usually listed along with Kepler’s Somnium and Goodwin’s A man in the moon among the scientific utopias (or perhaps proto-sci-fi literature). However, there are important differences between Wilkins balanced and serious discussion and the “fables” and “scientific utopias” of the time. Wilkins’ purpose is to give strength to the opinion that the Moon is a solid body endowed with relief, atmosphere and vegetation, just like the Earth. A subsidiary scope is to imagine a technology for traveling to the moon. This part of the work is perhaps the more interesting, since it reveals Wilkins’s conception (and perhaps also his theory) of gravitation. There is no modern edition of the text (in English) and no modern translation.

Further reading:

Chapman, Allan. “A World in the Moon-Wilkins and his Lunar Voyage of 1640.” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32 (1991): 121.

Ait-Touati, Frederique, Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century, Chicago University Press, 2012


16. Wright, Thomas, An original theory or new hypothesis of the universe, 1750

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