Author (Your Name)

Scott Shagin, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. History Dept.


John M. Dudley

Second Advisor

George Maier


This study considers medieval astronomers in terms of their contributions to their contemporaries and to the progress of the discipline of astronomy. Two theories have been introduced into this study to facilitate a meaningful appraisal of the contributions of individual astronomers and of the progress of astronomy as a science. Thomas Kuhn's theory on scientific revolutions outlines the dynamics which he feels underlie the acceptance or rejection of a technical scientific theory. By applying this theory to the study of medieval astronomy, it can be concluded that the development of Ptolemaic theory in Western Christendom during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was anything but a stable process. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Ptolemaic theory was revived in the West, and it underwent a significant change by being accepted in combination with Aristotelian cosmological thought to yield a new theory or paradigm, to use Kuhn's term. This new paradigm was important to medieval astronomers for the new world view which it provided, and it was also important for its influence upon the progress of astronomy. Because of this thirteenth century synthesis of Ptolemaic theory and Aristotelian cosmology, there evolved toward the end of the century a paradigm which, for the first time in Western Christendom, reconciled mathematical and non-mathematical astronomy. From this synthesis was realised an astronomical system, not just the dualistic existence of the traditionally unrelated disciplines of mathematical astronomy and non-mathematical cosmology. Pitrin Sorokin's theory on social and cultural dynamics has also been integrated into this study. His theory recognizes that man's basis for determining reality changes, and that these changes are reflected in all aspects of a culture, including science. I have concluded that a Sorokin-type change in the basis of determining reality occurred in the thirteenth century. This change was in part precipitated by the emergence in Western Europe of the translated works of Aristotle. By way of relating scientific and cultural change, it will be seen that the thirteenth century synthesis in astronomy had a parallel not only in intellectual thought, but also in the determination of the methodology by which truth was appraised. It is my conclusion that late thirteenth century astronomers attempted to discover an enduring truth regarding the nature of the universe and that the basis for determining that truth was dictated by the culture in general, not by the scientist alone. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the methodology which the medieval astronomer utilized, the paradigm which arose among late thirteenth century astronomers was not a purely technical paradigm, but an intellectual as well. With this overview of the salient conclusions and topics of this paper in mind, a discussion of the Kuhnian and Sorokinian theories will serve to lay the foundation for a treatment of twelfth and thirteenth century astronomy in Western Christendom.


medieval astronomy, twelfth century, thirteenth century, Christendom, Thomas Kuhn, Ptolemaic theory


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