Newtonianism in early Enlightenment Germany, c. 1720 to 1750: metaphysics and the critique of dogmatic philosophy

The acceptance of Newton’s ideas and Newtonianism in the early German Enlightenment is usually described as hesitant and slow. Two reasons help to explain this phenomenon. One is that those who might have adopted Newtonian arguments were critics of Wolffianism. These critics, however, drew on indigenous currents of thought, pre-dating the reception of Newton in Germany and independent of Newtonian science. The other reason is that the controversies between Wolffians and their critics focused on metaphysics. Newton’s reputation, however, was that of a mathematician, and one point, on which Wolffians and their opponents agreed, was that mathematics was of no use in the solution of metaphysical questions. The appeal to Newton as an authority in metaphysics, it was argued, was the fault of Newton’s over-zealous disciples in Britain, who tried to transform him from a mathematician into the author of a general philosophical system. It is often argued that the Berlin Academy after 1743 included a Newtonian group, but even there the reception of Newtonianism was selective. Philosophers such as Leonhard Euler were also reluctant to be labelled ‘Newtonians’, because this implied a dogmatic belief in Newton’s ideas. Only after the mid-eighteenth century is ‘Newtonianism’ increasingly accepted in the sense of a philosophical system.Author Keywords: Natural philosophy; Mathematics; Metaphysics; Isaac Newton; Newtonianism; German Enlightenment
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2004.06.003
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References found in this work BETA
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz & Samuel Clarke (2007). The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence. In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Late Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell Pub. Ltd.

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Marius Stan (2013). Kant's Third Law of Mechanics: The Long Shadow of Leibniz. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (3):493-504.
Eric Schliesser (2011). Newton's Challenge to Philosophy: A Programmatic Essay. Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 1 (1):101-128.

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