The Coherence of the Astronomers: Incomplete Knowledge and Imaginative Exploration in the Marāgha Tradition of Islamic Astronomy

Master's Thesis


This thesis explores ideas about the limits, prerequisites, and objectives of investigating nature, primarily but not exclusively through astronomy, at work in the writings of Islamic scholars including Ibn al-Haytham, al-Ghazālī, and several astronomers of the Marāgha tradition. The latter tradition of modified Ptolemaic astronomy answered both Ibn al-Haytham’s call for conceptual and predictive consistency and al-Ghazālī‘s for metaphysical hesitancy appropriate to human reason’s limitations. Virtuosity and rhetoric, spirituality and one-upmanship, and perhaps even artistry evident in the Marāgha astronomers’ proliferation of ingenious models highlight an elective quality that bridges the “motivation gap" between their ongoing model-making and the lack of more tangible motivations, revealing the humanity behind their enterprise. Al-Ghazālī, once thought a destroyer of Islamic science and philosophy, truly helped give shape to a distinct and distinctive style of astronomy as an exploration of God, the heavens, and the bounds of human knowledge.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-11302011-183319

Author John Stanley Cirilli
Advisor Dr. Katherine Brading
Contributor Chris Hamling, Committee Member
Contributor Robert Goulding, Committee Member
Contributor Dr. Katherine Brading, Committee Chair
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline History and Philosophy of Science
Degree Name MA
Defense Date
  • 2011-11-15

Submission Date 2011-11-30
  • United States of America

  • Copernicus

  • hay’a

  • Ibn al-Haytham

  • al-Tūsī

  • al-Ghazālī

  • al-’Urdī

  • Marāgha

  • Ptolemaic Astronomy

  • Islamic Astronomy

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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