Natural Philosophy: Including Mathematics, Optics, And Alchemy Criticism - Essay

Albert Einstein (essay date 1927)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Isaac Newton," in Smithsonian Treasury of Science, edited by Webster P. True, Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1960, pp. 278-86.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1927, Einstein examines the methods by which Newton approached scientific inquiry and comments on the significance of Newton's achievement.]

The two-hundredth anniversary of the death of Newton falls at this time. One's thoughts cannot but turn to this shining spirit, who pointed out, as none before or after him did, the path of Western thought and research and practical construction. He was not only an inventor of genius in respect of particular guiding methods; he also showed a unique...

(The entire section is 2975 words.)

E. W. Strong (essay date 1951)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Newton's Mathematical Way," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XII, No. 1, January 1951, pp. 90-110.

[In the following essay, Strong analyzes Newton's method for "mathematically determining" natural phenomena. Aspects of this mathematical procedure, Strong states, include experimental investigation, demonstration from principles, and an emphasis on measurement.]

The task of this historical essay is to make out the procedure which Newton designates as a "mathematical way" to be followed in physical science—a way of "mathematically determining all kinds of phenomena."1 This procedure with respect to the role of measurement in experimental...

(The entire section is 8576 words.)

I. Bernard Cohen (essay date 1952)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: A preface to Opticks, or, a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections, and Colours of Light, by Isaac Newton, Dover Publications, 1952, pp. ix-lxxvii.

[In the following essay, Cohen reviews the content, textual history, and contemporary and later reception of Newton's Opticks.]

Great creations—whether of science or of art—can never be viewed dispassionately. The Opticks, like any other scientific masterpiece, is a difficult book to view objectively; first, because of the unique place of its author, Isaac Newton, in the history of science, and, second, because of the doctrine it contains. One of the most readable of all the great books in...

(The entire section is 11328 words.)

Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall (essay date 1960)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Newton's Theory of Matter," in Isis, Vol. 51, No. 164, June 1960, pp. 131-44.

[In the following essay, Hall and Hall examine several of Newton's unpublished manuscripts in order to better understand the development of his theory of matter.]

A clear understanding of Newton's real thoughts about the nature of matter and of the forces associated with material particles has always been (to borrow his own phrase) "pressed with difficulties." That a corpuscular or particulate theory was unreservedly adopted by him has long been abundantly evident from many passages in the Principia, and from the Quaeries in Opticks, to mention only...

(The entire section is 7669 words.)

Brian Ellis (essay date 1965)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Origin and Nature of Newton's Laws of Motion," in Beyond the Edge of Certainty: Essays in Contemporary Science and Philosophy, edited by Robert G. Colodny, Prentice Hall, 1965, pp. 29-68.

[In the following essay, Ellis studies the historical origins of Newton's laws of motion and argues that contrary to popular belief the laws are more derivative of the physics of Descartes than the theories of Galileo. Ellis further emphasizes the conceptual nature of the laws, maintaining that they are not derived from or supported by observation or experimentation.]

Are the laws of acceleration and of the composition of forces only arbitrary...

(The entire section is 19829 words.)

D. T. Whiteside (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Sources and Strengths of Newton's Early Mathematical Thought," in The Texas Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3, Autumn 1967, pp. 69-85.

[In the following excerpt, Whiteside traces the development of Newton's mathematical thought and comments on his achievements in calculus.]

In this tercentenary year we celebrate, in spirit if perhaps not with full historical accuracy, the first maturing of Newton the exact scientist. Persuaded by a wealth of pleasant traditional anecdote and autobiographical reminiscence, our thoughts go back three hundred years to a young Cambridge student, at twenty-three scarcely on the brink of manhood, working away undisturbed in a cramped,...

(The entire section is 6699 words.)

Dudley Shapere (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Philosophical Significance of Newton's Science," in The Texas Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3, Autumn 1967, pp. 201-15.

[In the following essay, Shapere explores the relationship of philosophy and science in Newton's thought, suggesting that Newton approached scientific study in a philosophical manner.]

In a famous passage in the preface to the first edition of his Principia, Newton declared that:

I offer this work as the mathematical principles of philosophy, for the whole burden of philosophy seems to consist in this—from the phenomena of motions to investigate the forces of nature, and then from these forces to...

(The entire section is 9056 words.)

P. M. Rattansi (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Newton's Alchemical Studies," in Science, Medicine, and Society in the Renaissance, edited by Allen G. Debus, Science History Publications, 1972, pp. 167-82.

[In the following essay, Rattansi emphasizes that examination of Newton's work in alchemy should not be divorced from the remainder of his scientific work, nor should such examination attemnpt to divide Newton into "irreconcilable 'scientific' and 'mystical' selves."]

Newton's alchemical studies first came to public notice when Brewster published his magisterial biography of Newton in 1855. Brewster was troubled by Newton's obsessive interest in the subject, and confessed that:


(The entire section is 6303 words.)

Robert B. Downs (essay date 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "System of the World," in Books That Changed the World, Second Edition, American Library Association, 1978, pp. 334-74.

[In the following essay, Downs surveys the content, scope, and reception of Newton's Principia.]

Sir Isaac Newton. Principia Mathematica

Of all the books which have profoundly influenced human affairs, few have been more celebrated and none read by fewer people than Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"). Deliberately written in the most abstruse and technical Latin, profusely illustrated by complex geometrical diagrams, the work's...

(The entire section is 4191 words.)

Thomas S. Kuhn (essay date 1978)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Newton's Optical Papers," in Newton's Papers & Letters on Natural Philosophy and Related Documents, Second Edition, Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 3-24, 27-45.

[In the following essay, Kuhn examines Newton's optical experiments and publications, commenting on the significance of his findings as well as the limitations of his experimental procedures and his presentation of results.]

The original publication of the optical papers of Isaac Newton marked the beginning of an era in the development of the physical sciences. These papers, reprinted below, were the first public pronouncements by the man who has been to all subsequent generations the archetype...

(The entire section is 7547 words.)

I. Bernard Cohen (essay date 1980)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "The Newtonian Revolution in Science," in The Newtonian Revolution, Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 1-37, 290-99.

[In the following essay, Cohen offers an overview of the developments in the scientific community during Newton's time. Cohen then identifies the qualities of Newton's Principia that made the work so revolutionary.]

1.1 Some basic features of the Scientifc Revolution

A study of the Newtonian revolution in science rests on the fundamental assumption that revolutions actually occur in science. A correlative assumption must be that the achievements of Isaac Newton were of such a kind or magnitude as to...

(The entire section is 18864 words.)

A. T. Winterbourne (essay date 1985)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Newton's Arguments for Absolute Space," in Archiv fur Geschichte de Philosophie, Walter de Gruyter, 1985, pp. 80-91.

[In the following essay, Winterbourne offers a reading of Newton's "proofs" of absolute space that supports the claim that Newton's argument has been misrepresented by modern critics. Furthermore, Winterbourne suggests that Newton's argument may be interpreted more literally than has previously been the case.]

In this paper I shall examine Newton's 'proofs' of absolute space, and try to justify the claim that the argument has been misrepresented by recent commentators, and that it can be given a rather more literal rendering than has been the...

(The entire section is 5135 words.)

Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs (essay date 1991)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: "Isaac Newton, Philosopher by Fire," in The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton's Thought, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 1-18.

[In the following essay, Dobbs challenges critics who have doubted or suppressed the influence of alchemy on Newton's scientific thought.]


Isaac Newton studied alchemy from about 1668 until the second or third decade of the eighteenth century. He combed the literature of alchemy, compiling voluminous notes and even transcribing entire treatises in his own hand. Eventually he drafted treatises of his own, filled with references to the older literature. The manuscript...

(The entire section is 7239 words.)