Volume 13, Issue 2, 2016
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.