The historical assumptions behind the General Scholium: a non-metaphysical Newton

27 April 2015, 12:30 - 14:00

CRASSH Meeting Room, Alison Richard Building

Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work in Progress seminar series.  All welcome, but please email Michelle Maciejewska if you wish to attend and to request readings.   Sandwich lunch and refreshments provided.

Dr Dmitri Levitin

This paper offers a revisionist reading of Newton’s natural philosophy, founded primarily on a re-examination and re-contextualisation of the historical claims made in his published works (especially the General Scholium added to the second edition of the Principia) and unpublished manuscripts (especially the so-called ‘Classical Scholia’, and the manuscripts in the Yahuda collection in Jerusalem). It is demonstrated that a contextual understanding of these historical claims is essential for understanding Newton’s natural philosophy: specifically, we shall find that Newton was consciously and deliberately agnostic about the nature of action at a distance (which he certainly accepted) and about how God interacted with the world. He considered the rejection of such agnosticism as the origin of both pagan idolatry and of the discipline of metaphysics, a discipline which—contrary to recent scholarly orthodoxy—we will find that he resolutely rejected. To support this finding, several of Newton’s more ambiguous comments on divine extension, causation and ‘emanation’ are demonstrated to be references to commonplace terms in scholastic philosophy: far from revealing a ‘metaphysical’ Newton, they only show his disdain for the discipline. Finally, an early dating and pedagogical intent for the famous ‘De gravitatione’ manuscript is defended.

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