The Debate on Ptolemys Theory Philosophy Essay
Answer one of the following prompts in a 2-page paper (aim for about 600 words). Your submission should be double-spaced, using a standard 12 point font (e.g., Times, Arial) and normal margins (your word processing application’s defaults are fine).
Focus on constructing clear, concise, informative paragraphs with strong explanatory links between your points. Your intro paragraph can be very brief, but make sure it includes a thesis statement (a statement of your overall contention / the claim that everything else in your paper is ultimately there to support). Use of the first person--e.g., “In this paper I will argue that…” etc.--is fine. Make sure you address all parts of the prompt and avoid unnecessary discussion.
1. Imagine that you are an astronomer from Ptolemy’s time and compose a letter in which you attempt to persuade a colleague either that the earth is stationary or that the evidence is inconclusive and that it is reasonable to remain open to the possibility of a moving earth. Whichever you choose to defend, be sure to discuss the arguments (from Ptolemy or Aristotle) that strike you as the most persuasive. Note: For this prompt, you do not need to begin your paper with an introductory paragraph as described in the general instructions above and the word limit is more flexible. You may write in a more conversational manner, but be sure not to sacrifice argumentative rigor!
2. Critically assess the following claim: “Commitment to uniform circular motion was purely philosophical and held ancient astronomy back--the science would have made more progress and would generally have been better off without it.” Can you draw any general lessons for science from your assessment of this claim?
3. Plato is reputed to have challenged Early Greek astronomers to account for apparent irregularities in planetary motion by appealing only to uniform circular motions. Plato’s charge can be viewed as an instance of a more general strategy for understanding nature, i.e., the attempt to find order in apparent disorder, regularity “behind” or “beneath” apparent irregularity. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of approaching the study of nature in this way. What does your discussion suggest about the comparative roles of empirical and philosophical/conceptual beliefs in science?
4. Philosophers and historians of science debate whether Ptolemy was a realist or an instrumentalist about his theories of the universe. Setting aside the question of what Ptolemy’s actual attitudes were towards his theory, which attitude do you think would have been more rational for ancient astronomers to take towards Ptolemy’s theory-instrumentalist or realist? Defend your answer.
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