Early Modern Cosmology:
Institutions and Metaphysics   

Institutions and Metaphysics of Cosmology in the Epistemic Networks of Seventeenth-Century Europe

The Early Modern Cosmology research endeavor utilizes a two-pronged approach to the study of early modern cosmology:

  • we propose a comparative inquiry into early-modern cosmologies by placing them in the context of their institutional, political, religious, and ideological settings;
  • and employ these case studies to make broader, more methodological reflections in a new area of epistemology we refer to as ‘political epistemology’.

Cosmology — the knowledge on the order, constitution, and motions of the world — was a field of acute ideological struggles in early modernity. The fact that such polemics were often inserted into a religious framework should not obscure the eminently political character of the many and diverse attempts to hegemonize scientific debates through cultural, educational, and editorial means. The formation of competing communities can also be seen in the rise of academic and scientific networks that were united by confessional and political ties. For example, the confessional embedment of cosmology in the framework of the late Scholasticism of Jesuit colleges stood in stark opposition to similar efforts in other settings — for example, in the mobile topography of interlinked Protestant universities or the claims for autonomy that were made by philosophy professors at the University of Padua.

Our study of the religious-political drives behind many early-modern European cosmological skirmishes (in astronomy, physics, philosophy, and epistemology) makes a significant contribution to the political understanding of the advancement of science. Furthermore, because these cultural conflicts over cosmology concerned the categories of science itself, and not merely the content produced by scientific activities, it is also essential for the ERC endeavor to engage with epistemology. Therefore, we inquire into the historical developments of science from the viewpoint of the metaphysical and epistemological principles of the science of the time, as well as from the viewpoint of present-day questions about the nature of our scientific modernity.