This paper is an account of Kepler’s explicit awareness of the problem of experimental error. As a study of the Astronomia nova shows, Kepler exploited his awareness of the occurrences of experimental errors to guide him to the right conclusion. Errors were thus employed, so to speak, perhaps for the first time, to bring about a major physical discovery: Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. ‘Know then’, to use Kepler’s own words, ‘that errors show us the way to truth.’ With a survey of Kepler’s revolutionary contribution to optics, the paper demonstrates that Kepler’s awareness of the problem of experimental error extended beyond discrepancies between calculations and observations to types of error which pertain to observations and instruments. It emerges that Kepler’s belief in the unity of knowledge and physical realism, facilitated-indeed created-the right philosophical posture for comprehending the problem of error in an entirely novel way.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- History and Philosophy of Science