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A general introduction

Copernican theory is a part of a group of cosmological theories, that is theories that describe the structure of the world in the largest scale. The importance of these theories goes far beyond science, in the pure sense of the word, and touches upon theology, philosophy, and art, since the underlying foundations of cosmological theories may constitute a specific mental stage at which a human life takes place. This is because human beings avoid any kind of “cosmological void”, consisting in the absence of a global view of the world, which would be the primary point of reference in culture.

Before Copernicus’s theory was formulated, geocentric astronomical theories that were prevailing in the European culture of those times in the Middle Ages were deeply integrated with the whole culture, and not only with astronomy, physics or cosmology, but also with Christian theology, which was reflected in numerous artistic and literary works.

Hence Copernicus’ announcement of his theory (which has mathematical, empirical and cosmological constituents) met with a very complex reception in different areas of culture in the 16th to the 20th century: in science in the limited sense (astronomy, physics), Christian theology, philosophy (philosophy of man, social philosophy), cosmology (the vision of the world and the place of human kind), and art. Such reception varied in different domains of culture and it depended on various factors, which were both purely scientific (physical-astronomical-mathematic), as well as philosophical-cosmological or ideological-religious-theological.

Michał Kokowski
Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies
Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences