FOM: Successes of intuition over rigor

Alexander R. Pruss ap85 at
Thu Feb 14 19:16:26 EST 2002

From: "Gordon Fisher" <gfisher at>
> Incidentally, just to discuss one of your examples
> of purported failed intuition, in the book by
> Einstein and Infeld called _Evolution of Physics_,
> you will find a remark to the effect that if general
> relativity had also been formulated by or available
> to Copernicus, then he could have realized that
> saying the sun goes around the earth and the earth
> goes around the sun are equivalent in the sense
> that one can choose coordinates so that each of
> these is tenable.  Thus, say E and I (in their own
> words), a lot of the fuss that has been made over
> the transition from Ptolemaic to Copernican
> astronomy would have been unnecessary, or at
> least transformed.

Just a historical footnote.  This relativistic argument was given almost
three centuries earlier by Leibniz.  As far as I know, it was ignored in the
debate at the time.  It's also interesting to note that the mere claim that
the Copernican hypothesis is simpler for calculation would have been
acceptable to everyone involved;  what troubled some was the further realist
construal of the hypothesis intended to Copernicus.


Dr. Alexander R. Pruss
Department of Philosophy
Georgetown University
Washington, DC 20057-1133  U.S.A.
e-mail: ap85 at
home page:
   "Philosophiam discimus non ut tantum sciamus, sed ut boni efficiamur."
       - Paul of Worczyn (1424)

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