On the Heavens

On the Heavens (Greek: Περὶ οὐρανοῦ; Latin: De Caelo or De Caelo et Mundo) is Aristotle's chief cosmological treatise: written in 350 BC it contains his astronomical theory and his ideas on the concrete workings of the terrestrial world. It should not be confused with the spurious work On the Universe (De mundo, also known as On the Cosmos).

Page one of Aristotle's On the Heavens, from an edition published in 1837

According to Aristotle in On the Heavens, the heavenly bodies are the most perfect realities, (or "substances"), whose motions are ruled by principles other than those of bodies in the sublunary sphere. The latter are composed of one or all of the four classical elements (earth, water, air, fire) and are perishable; but the matter of which the heavens are made is imperishable aether, so they are not subject to generation and corruption. Hence their motions are eternal and perfect, and the perfect motion is the circular one, which, unlike the earthly up-and down-ward locomotions, can last eternally selfsame - an early predecessor to Newton's First Law of Motion. Aristotle theorized that aether did not exist anywhere on Earth, but that it was an element exclusive to the heavens. As substances, celestial bodies have matter (aether) and form (a given period of uniform rotation). Sometimes Aristotle seems to regard them as living beings with a rational soul as their form[1] (see also Metaphysics, bk. XII).


Aristotle proposed a geocentric model of the universe in On the Heavens. The Earth is the center of motion of the universe, with circular motion being perfect because Earth was at the center of it. There can only be one center of the universe, and as a result there are no other inhabited worlds within it besides Earth. As such the Earth is unique and alone in this regard. Aristotle theorized that beyond the sublunary sphere and the heavens is an external spiritual space that mankind cannot fathom directly.[2] This work is significant as one of the defining pillars of the Aristotelian worldview, a school of philosophy that dominated intellectual thinking for almost two millennia. Similarly, this work and others by Aristotle were important seminal works by which much of scholasticism was derived.