Aside from the Principia and occasional appearances of the Opticks , Newton' writings have remained largely inaccessible to students of philosophy, science, and literature as well as to other readers. This book provides a remedy with wide representation of the interests, problems, and diverse philosophic issues that preoccupied the greatest scientific mind of the seventeenth century. Grouped in sections corresponding to methods, principles, and theological considerations, these selections feature explanatory notes and cross-references to related essays.
: Newton's critics argued that his treatment of gravity in the Principia saddles him with a substantial dilemma. If he insists that gravity is a real force, he must invoke action at a distance because of his explicit failure to characterize the mechanism underlying gravity. To avoid distant action, however, he must admit that gravity is not a real force, and that he has therefore failed to discover the actual cause of the phenomena associated with it. A reinterpretation of (...)Newton's distinction between the "mathematical" and the "physical" treatment of force indicates how he can reject each horn of this dilemma. (shrink)
Newton's philosophical views are unique and uniquely difficult to categorise. In the course of a long career from the early 1670s until his death in 1727, he articulated profound responses to Cartesian natural philosophy and to the prevailing mechanical philosophy of his day. Newton as Philosopher presents Newton as an original and sophisticated contributor to natural philosophy, one who engaged with the principal ideas of his most important predecessor, René Descartes, and of his most influential critic, G. (...) W. Leibniz. Unlike Descartes and Leibniz, Newton was systematic and philosophical without presenting a philosophical system, but over the course of his life, he developed a novel picture of nature, our place within it, and its relation to the creator. This rich treatment of his philosophical ideas will be of wide interest to historians of philosophy, science, and ideas. (shrink)
This collection of specially commissioned essays by leading scholars presents research on Isaac Newton and his main philosophical interlocutors and critics. The essays analyze Newton's relation to his contemporaries, especially Barrow, Descartes, Leibniz and Locke and discuss the ways in which a broad range of figures, including Hume, Maclaurin, Maupertuis and Kant, reacted to his thought. The wide range of topics discussed includes the laws of nature, the notion of force, the relation of mathematics to nature, Newton's (...) argument for universal gravitation, his attitude toward philosophical empiricism, his use of 'fluxions', his approach toward measurement problems and his concept of absolute motion, together with new interpretations of Newton's matter theory. The volume concludes with an extended essay that analyzes the changes in physics wrought by Newton's Principia. A substantial introduction and bibliography provide essential reference guides. (shrink)
Newton published his deduction of universal gravity in Principia (first ed., 1687). To establish the universality (the particle-to-particle nature) of gravity, Newton must establish the additivity of mass. I call ‘additivity’ the property a body's quantity of matter has just in case, if gravitational force is proportional to that quantity, the force can be taken to be the sum of forces proportional to each particle's quantity of matter. Newton's argument for additivity is obscure. I analyze and assess (...) manuscript versions of Newton's initial argument within his initial deduction, dating from early 1685. Newton's strategy depends on distinguishing two quantities of matter, which I call ‘active’ and ‘passive’, by how they are measured. These measurement procedures frame conditions on the additivity of each quantity so measured. While Newton has direct evidence for the additivity of passive quantity of matter, he does not for that of the active quantity. Instead, he tries to infer the latter from the former via conceptual analyses of the third law of motion grounded largely on analogies to magnetic attractions. The conditions needed to establish passive additivity frustrate Newton's attempted inference to active additivity. (shrink)
Newton’s Regulae philosophandi—the rules for reasoning in natural philosophy—are maxims of causal reasoning and induction. This essay reviews their significance for Newton’s method of inquiry, as well as their application to particular propositions within the Principia. Two main claims emerge. First, the rules are not only interrelated, they defend various facets of the same core idea: that nature is simple and orderly by divine decree, and that, consequently, human beings can be justified in inferring universal causes from limited (...) phenomena, if only fallibly. Second, the rules make substantive ontological assumptions on which Newton’s argument in the Principia relies. (shrink)
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) left a voluminous legacy of writings. Despite his influence on the early modern period, his correspondence, manuscripts, and publications in natural philosophy remain scattered throughout many disparate editions. In this volume, Newton's principal philosophical writings are for the first time collected in a single place. They include excerpts from the Principia and the Opticks, his famous correspondence with Boyle and with Bentley, and his equally significant correspondence with Leibniz, which is often ignored in favor (...) of Leibniz's later debate with Samuel Clarke. Newton's exchanges with Leibniz place their different understandings of natural philosophy in sharp relief. The volume also includes 'De Gravitatione', offered here in a corrected translation, which is crucial for understanding Newton's relation to his great predecessor Descartes. In a historical and philosophical introduction, Andrew Janiak examines Newton's philosophical positions and his relations to canonical figures in early modern philosophy. (shrink)
Isaac Newton's Scientific Method examines Newton's argument for universal gravity and his application of it to resolve the problem of deciding between geocentric and heliocentric world systems by measuring masses of the sun and planets. William L. Harper suggests that Newton's inferences from phenomena realize an ideal of empirical success that is richer than prediction. Any theory that can achieve this rich sort of empirical success must not only be able to predict the phenomena it purports to (...) explain, but also have those phenomena accurately measure the parameters which explain them. Harper explores the ways in which Newton's method aims to turn theoretical questions into ones which can be answered empirically by measurement from phenomena, and to establish that propositions inferred from phenomena are provisionally accepted as guides to further research. This methodology, guided by its rich ideal of empirical success, supports a conception of scientific progress that does not require construing it as progress toward Laplace's ideal limit of a final theory of everything, and is not threatened by the classic argument against convergent realism. Newton's method endorses the radical theoretical transformation from his theory to Einstein's. Harper argues that it is strikingly realized in the development and application of testing frameworks for relativistic theories of gravity, and very much at work in cosmology today. (shrink)
It is widely accepted that the notion of an inertial frame is central to Newtonian mechanics and that the correct space-time structure underlying Newton’s methods in Principia is neo-Newtonian or Galilean space-time. I argue to the contrary that inertial frames are not needed in Newton’s theory of motion, and that the right space-time structure for Newton’s Principia requires the notion of parallelism of spatial directions at different times and nothing more. Only relative motions are definable in this (...) framework, never absolute ones. (shrink)
We all think that science is special. Its products—its technological spin-off—dominate our lives which are thereby sometimes enriched and sometimes impoverished but always affected. Even the most outlandish critics of science such as Feyerabend implicitly recognize its success. Feyerabend told us that science was a congame. Scientists had so successfully hood-winked us into adopting its ideology that other equally legitimate forms of activity—alchemy, witchcraft and magic—lost out. He conjured up a vision of much enriched lives if only we could free (...) ourselves from the domination of the ‘one true ideology’ of science just as our ancestors freed us from the domination of the Church. But he told us these things in Switzerland and in California happily commuting between them in that most ubiquitous product of science—the aeroplane. (shrink)
This is the first volume of original commissioned papers on the subject of Newton and empiricism. The chapters, contributed by a leading team of both established and younger international scholars, explore the nature and extent of Newton's relationship to a variety of empiricisms and empiricists.
Isaac Newton's Scientific Method examines Newton's argument for universal gravity and his application of it to resolve the problem of deciding between geocentric and heliocentric world systems by measuring masses of the sun and planets. William L. Harper suggests that Newton's inferences from phenomena realize an ideal of empirical success that is richer than prediction. Any theory that can achieve this rich sort of empirical success must not only be able to predict the phenomena it purports to (...) explain, but also have those phenomena accurately measure the parameters which explain them. Harper explores the ways in which Newton's method aims to turn theoretical questions into ones which can be answered empirically, by measurement from phenomena, and to establish that propositions inferred from phenomena are provisionally accepted as guides to further research. This methodology, guided by its rich ideal of empirical success, supports a conception of scientific progress that does not require construing it as progress toward Laplace's ideal limit of a final theory of everything, and is not threatened by the classic argument against convergent realism. Newton's method endorses the radical theoretical transformation from his theory to Einstein's. Harper argues that it is strikingly realized in the development and application of testing frameworks for relativistic theories of gravity, and very much at work in cosmology today. (shrink)
Newton’s famous pronouncement, Hypotheses non fingo, first appeared in 1713, but his anti-hypothetical stance was present as early as 1672. For example, in his first paper on optics, Newton claims that his doctrine of light and colours is a theory, not a hypothesis, for three reasons (1) It is certainly true, because it supported by (or deduced from) experiment; (2) It concerns the physical properties of light, rather than the nature of light; and (3) It has testable consequences. (...) Despite his clear anti-hypothetical statements, a corpuscular hypothesis lies beneath Newton’s theory of colours. What are we to make of this? Is Newton guilty of feigning a hypothesis? Some writers, such as Sabre and Dear, argue that Newton’s Hypotheses non fingo is merely ‘lip-service’ to the dominant methodological tradition. Others, such as Janiak, argue that Newton’s anti-hypotheticalism is a polemic device, designed specifically to oppose his Cartesian and Leibnizian critics. I argue that, despite his corpuscular hypothesis, we should take Newton’s pronouncement as a genuine account of his methodology. I take a fresh look at Newton’s first optical papers in light of the role of hypotheses in the Baconian-experimental tradition in which Newton’s early research was conducted. I argue that Newton is working with a rough but genuine distinction between hypothesis and theory. This distinction is consistent with both the Baconian-experimental method and with his later anti-hypothetical pronouncements. I conclude that Newton did not ‘feign’ the corpuscular hypothesis. (shrink)
This paper investigates the question of, and the degree to which, Newton’s theory of space constitutes a third-way between the traditional substantivalist and relationist ontologies, i.e., that Newton judged that space is neither a type of substance/entity nor purely a relation among such substances. A non-substantivalist reading of Newton has been famously defended by Howard Stein, among others; but, as will be demonstrated, these claims are problematic on various grounds, especially as regards Newton’s alleged rejection of (...) the traditional substance/accident dichotomy concerning space. Nevertheless, our analysis of the metaphysical foundations of Newton’s spatial theory will strive to uncover its unique and innovative characteristics, most notably, the distinctive role that Newton’s “immaterialist” spatial ontology plays in his dynamics. (shrink)
Newton’s earliest publications contained scandalous epistemological claims: not only did he aim for certainty; he also claimed success. Some commentators argue that Newton ultimately gave up claims of certainty in favor of a high degree of probability. I argue that no such shift occurred. I examine the evidence of a probabilistic shift: a passage from query 23/31 of the Opticks and rule 4 of the Principia. Neither passage supports a probabilistic approach to natural philosophy. The aim of certainty, (...) then, was an enduring feature of Newton’s methodology. (shrink)
This paper is a critical response to Hylarie Kochiras’ “Gravity and Newton’s substance counting problem,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40 267–280. First, the paper argues that Kochiras conflates substances and beings; it proceeds to show that Newton is a substance monist. The paper argues that on methodological grounds Newton has adequate resources to respond to the metaphysical problems diagnosed by Kochiras. Second, the paper argues against the claim that Newton is committed to two (...) speculative doctrines attributed to him by Kochiras and earlier Andrew Janiak: i) the passivity of matter and ii) the principle of local causation. Third, the paper argues that while Kochiras’ arguments about Newton’s metaphysical commitments are mistaken, it qualifies the characterization of Newton as an extreme empiricist as defended by Howard Stein and Rob DiSalle. In particular, the paper shows that Newton’s empiricism was an intellectual and developmental achievement that built on non trivial speculative commitments about the nature of matter and space.Keywords: Newton; Substance; Action at a distance; Space; Matter; Empiricism. (shrink)
I identify a set of interlocking views that became (and still are) very influential within philosophy in the wake of Newton’s success. These views use the authority of natural philosophy/mechanics to settle debates within philosophy. I label these “Newton’s Challenge.”.
This paper has the aim to provide a general view of the so called Jesuit Edition (hereafter JE) of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1739–1742). This edition was conceived to explain all Newton’s methods through an apparatus of notes and commentaries. Every Newton’s proposition is annotated. Because of this, the text – in four volumes – is one of the most important documents to understand Newton’s way of reasoning. This edition is well known, but systematic works (...) on it are still missing. We are going to fill this gap by means of a project exposed in the final remarks of this paper. In this paper we will: A) expound the way in which the notes and the additions to the JE were conceived by the commentators; B) provide some pieces of information about the commentators; C) summarize the most important of their notes; D) examine closely their notes as to a particularly important question: the so called "inverse problem of the central forces". (shrink)
This essay explores the role of God’s omnipresence in Newton’s natural philosophy, with special emphasis placed on how God is related to space. Unlike Descartes’ conception, which denies the spatiality of God, or Gassendi and Charleton’s view, which regards God as completely whole in every part of space, it is argued that Newton accepts spatial extension as a basic aspect of God’s omnipresence. The historical background to Newton’s spatial ontology assumes a large part of our investigation, but (...) with attention also focused on the details of Newton’s unique approach to these traditional Scholastic conceptions. (shrink)
A striking feature of Newton’s thought is the very broad reach of his empiricism, potentially extending even to immaterial substances, including God, minds, and should one exist, a non-perceiving immaterial medium. Yet Newton is also drawn to certain metaphysical principles—most notably the principle that matter cannot act where it is not—and this second, rationalist feature of his thought is most pronounced in his struggle to discover ‘gravity’s cause’. The causal problem remains vexing, for he neither invokes primary causation, (...) nor accepts action at a distance by locating active powers in matter. To the extent that he is drawn to metaphysical principles, then, the causal problem is that of discovering some non-perceiving immaterial medium. Yet Newton’s thought has a third striking feature, one with roots in the other two: he allows that substances of different kinds might simultaneously occupy the very same region of space. I elicit the implications of these three features. For Newton to insist upon all three would transform the causal question about gravity into an insoluble problem about apportioning active powers. More seriously, it would undermine his means of individuating substances, provoking what I call ‘Newton’s Substance Counting Problem’. (shrink)
In this discussion paper, I seek to challenge Hylarie Kochiras’ recent claims on Newton’s attitude towards action at a distance, which will be presented in Section 1. In doing so, I shall include the positions of Andrew Janiak and John Henry in my discussion and present my own tackle on the matter . Additionally, I seek to strengthen Kochiras’ argument that Newton sought to explain the cause of gravity in terms of secondary causation . I also provide some (...) specification on what Kochiras calls ‘Newton’s substance counting problem’ . In conclusion, I suggest a historical correction .Keywords: Isaac Newton ; Action at a distance; Cause of gravity; Fourth letter to Bentley. (shrink)
Reasoning without experience is very slippery. A man may puzzle me by arguents [sic] … but I’le beleive my ey experience ↓my eyes.↓ernan mcmullin once remarked that, although the “avowedly tentative form” of the Queries “marks them off from the rest of Newton’s published work,” they are “the most significant source, perhaps, for the most general categories of matter and action that informed his research.”2 The Queries (or Quaestiones), which Newton inserted at the very end of the third (...) book of the Opticks3 or its Latin rendition, Optice,4 constitute that part of his optical magnum opus which he reworked and augmented the most—especially between 1704 and 1717. While the main text of the Opticks itself underwent .. (shrink)
This paper investigates Newton’s ontology of space in order to determine its commitment, if any, to both Cambridge neo-Platonism, which posits an incorporeal basis for space, and substantivalism, which regards space as a form of substance or entity. A non-substantivalist interpretation of Newton’s theory has been famously championed by Howard Stein and Robert DiSalle, among others, while both Stein and the early work of J. E. McGuire have downplayed the influence of Cambridge neo-Platonism on various aspects of (...) class='Hi'>Newton’s own spatial hypotheses. Both of these assertions will be shown to be problematic on various grounds, with special emphasis placed on Stein’s influential case for a non-substantivalist reading. Our analysis will strive, nonetheless, to reveal the unique or forward-looking aspects of Newton’s approach, most notably, his critical assessment of substance ontologies, that help to distinguish his theory of space from his neo-Platonic contemporaries and predecessors. (shrink)
This article investigates the relationship between Hume’s causal philosophy and Newton ’s philosophy of nature. I claim that Newton ’s experimentalist methodology in gravity research is an important background for understanding Hume’s conception of causality: Hume sees the relation of cause and effect as not being founded on a priori reasoning, similar to the way that Newton criticized non - empirical hypotheses about the properties of gravity. However, according to Hume’s criteria of causal inference, the law of (...) universal gravitation is not a complete causal law, since it does not include a reference either to contiguity or to temporal priority. It is still argued that because of the empirical success of Newton ’s theory—the law is a statement of an exceptionless repetition—Hume gives his support to it in interpreting gravity force instrumentally as if it bore a causal relation to motion. (shrink)
Did Goethe devise an empirically viable theory of classical ray optics? Or can we at least make use of his ideas to propose one? And if so, does this confront us with an intriguing case of theory underdetermination? In this paper, which is mainly a comment on the recent work of Olaf Müller, I shall address these three questions and argue for ‘no, yes, no’. This is in contrast to Müller, who has recently launched a vivid defense of Goethe-style ray (...) optics :569–573, 2015b; Z Philos Forsch 69:588–598, 2015c; Br J Hist Philos 24:322–346, 2016). Müller aims to give an almost positive answer to all three questions: ‘perhaps, yes, yes’. My overall line of argument will be that the rather restricted regime of classical geometrical optics of spectral colors allows at best for a weak form of transient theory underdetermination that, in turn and more straightforwardly, also allows for a structuralist reading in terms of two structurally equivalent formulations of one and the same theory. However, extending any of the rivaling models of ray optics other than Newton’s beyond the mentioned regime and embedding them into physics in total—especially in view of thermodynamics—leads to a contradiction. Hence, Newton’s theory is confirmed as the only consistent theoretical interpretation of ray optics. (shrink)
Manuscript Add. 3965, section 13, folios 541r–542r and 545r–546r is in the Portsmouth Collection of manuscripts and housed in the University Library, Cambridge. These drafts contain a careful account, in Newton's hand, of his views on place, time, and God. They are part of a large number of drafts relating to the three official editions of the Principia published in Newton's lifetime.
As philosophers, we are often in the business of explaining scientific method. That is, we ask why such-and-such investigation was carried out as it was, what worked and what didn't, and why. Here, we introduce a framework for understanding "ontic-driven" responses to these kinds of questions. Explanations of method are ontic-driven when they appeal to properties of the systems under investigation. We shall use our framework to develop a fruitful and plausible hypothesis: that several methodological differences between Isaac Newton's (...) two major contributions to natural philosophy, his work on mechanics and optics, are due to ontic differences. We'll start by providing some examples of... (shrink)
Newton’s Principia introduces four rules of reasoning for natural philosophy. Although useful, there is a concern about whether Newton’s rules guarantee truth. After redirecting the discussion from truth to validity, I show that these rules are valid insofar as they fulfill Goodman’s criteria for inductive rules and Newton’s own methodological program of experimental philosophy; provided that cross-checks are used prior to applications of rule 4 and immediately after applications of rule 2 the following activities are pursued: (1) (...) research addressing observations that systematically deviate from theoretical idealizations and (2) applications of theory that safeguard ongoing research from proceeding down a garden path. (shrink)