Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

In the summer of 1684, the astronomer Edmond Halley asked Isaac Newton for his thoughts on planetary motion. Newton’s response, based on his early mathematical calculations, was that the planets would travel around the Sun in elliptical paths. Some months later, Newton provided Halley with a written mathematical proof of his prediction. At Halley’s request, Newton then set about to further explain the forces of nature that governed the motion of objects, including the movement of celestial bodies. By July 5, 1687, the results of this work appeared as the first edition of Newton’s Principia.

Newton was totally absorbed in the writing of the Principia for eighteen months. He would frequently forget to eat and slept only when overcome with exhaustion. Although it is not without errors, it has often been said that the Principia is the greatest work of science ever published. However, without considerable mathematical skills, it is difficult to follow and virtually impossible to comprehend. In addition to its complex mathematical language, the Principia was written in Latin (and not translated into English until two years after Newton’s death). By writing for an elite audience, Newton hoped he would be spared the annoyance of debating his work with those of lesser education. Nevertheless, its influence on the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century was crucial in overturning the prevailing philosophers’...

(The entire section is 407 words.)