The mathematical form of measurement and the argument for Proposition I in Newton’s Principia

Synthese 186 (1):191-229 (2012)
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Newton characterizes the reasoning of Principia Mathematica as geometrical. He emulates classical geometry by displaying, in diagrams, the objects of his reasoning and comparisons between them. Examination of Newton’s unpublished texts shows that Newton conceives geometry as the science of measurement. On this view, all measurement ultimately involves the literal juxtaposition—the putting-together in space—of the item to be measured with a measure, whose dimensions serve as the standard of reference, so that all quantity is ultimately related to spatial extension. I use this conception of Newton’s project to explain the organization and proofs of the first theorems of mechanics to appear in the Principia. The placementof Kepler’s rule of areas as the first proposition, and the manner in which Newton proves it, appear natural on the supposition that Newton seeks a measure, in the sense of a moveable spatial quantity, of time. I argue that Newton proceeds in this way so that his reasoning can have the ostensive certainty of geometry.



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Katherine Dunlop
University of Texas at Austin

References found in this work

Newton as Philosopher.Andrew Janiak - 2008 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Newtonian space-time.Howard Stein - 1967 - Texas Quarterly 10 (3):174--200.
The Euclidean Diagram.Kenneth Manders - 2008 - In Paolo Mancosu (ed.), The Philosophy of Mathematical Practice. Oxford University Press. pp. 80--133.

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