The law of refraction and Kepler’s heuristics

Carlos Alberto Cardona Suárez, Juliana Gutiérrez Valderrama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Johannes Kepler dedicated much of his work to discover a law for the refraction of light. Unfortunately, he formulated an incorrect law. Nevertheless, it was useful for anticipating the behavior of light in some specific conditions. Some believe that Kepler did not have the elements to formulate the law that was later accepted by the scientific community, that is, the Snell–Descartes law. However, in this paper, we propose a model that agrees with Kepler’s heuristics and that is also successful in anticipating the behavior of light when it passes through a surface that separates two media with different optical densities. This model adopts strategies that were recommended by Kepler in two types of analogies. The obstacles that led to the failure of the two types of analogies are presented in the article, and we argue that the model proposed here could overcome these specific obstacles. Finally, we show how the proposed model could be articulated with Kepler’s metaphysics of light.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-75
Number of pages31
JournalArchive for History of Exact Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Mathematics (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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