Perspectives on Science 16 (4):pp. 309-327 (2008)

Robert Smith’s A Compleat System of Opticks (1738) was the most prominent eighteenth-century text-book account of Newton’s optics. By rearranging the findings and conclusions of Opticks, it made them accessible to a wider public and at the same time refashioned Newton’s optics into a renewed science of optics. In this process, the optical parts of Principia were integrated, thus blending the experimental inferences and mechanistic hypotheses that Newton had carefully separated. The Compleat System was not isolated in its refashioning of Newton’s optics. Dutch and English promoters of the new philosophy had preceded Smith by giving Opticks a text-book treatment, and they too integrated experimental and mechanistic inferences. In this way eighteenth-century text-books produced a natural philosophical discourse of light, colors and matter. This paper traces the refashioning of Newton’s optics in Dutch and English text-books of natural philosophy during the first half of the eighteenth century. It concludes with the Dutch translation of A Compleat System of Opticks and its reception among innovators of telescope manufacture.
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DOI 10.1162/posc.2008.16.4.309
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