Studia Neoaristotelica

Volume 13, Issue 2, 2016

Louis Groarke
Pages 121-168

Can Aristotelianism Make Sense of Perihelion–Aphelion Orbits?

In general historical treatments, one often encounters the idea that Kepler’s and Newton’s discovery of elliptical planetary orbits marked a decisive break with tradition and definitively undermined any possibility of an Aristotelian approach to physics and astronomy. Although Aristotle had no understanding of gravity, I want to demonstrate that elliptical orbits were a refinement of earlier models and that one can produce an Aristotelian account of elliptical orbits once one corrects his crucial mistake about gravity. One interesting side-effect of this straightforwardly Aristotelian approach is that it eliminates the empty, second focal point around which any elliptical system revolves. I should emphasize that the present paper is not intended to contradict, oppose, or replace any aspect of contemporary mathematical physics or astronomy. The point is not to propose a new scientific theory—we all know that planetary orbits are elliptical—but to demonstrate that metaphysical Aristotelianism is more versatile than is generally supposed.