Reading Natural Philosophy: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science and Mathematics

By David B. Malament | Go to book overview

4
Howard Stein on Isaac Newton:
Beyond Hypotheses?

WILLIAM HARPER

This essay is my tribute to Howard Stein. A main focus will be on what I take to be deep and important issues raised by his 1991 paper, titled “'From the Phenomena of Motions to the Forces of Nature': Hypothesis or Deduction?” Stein's essay, though forced by editorial constraints to be shorter than he would have liked, is the most insightful analysis anyone has ever provided of the extraordinary argument for universal gravity which opens book 3 of Isaac Newton's Principia.

My efforts to use Newton's argument as a source of insight into the practice of natural science have been very much enriched by it. Those of us who have seriously grappled with the details of this argument all share a profound and admiring appreciation for Stein's analysis. Especially noteworthy are his unparalleled accounts of the innovations in Newton's conception of a centripetal force, and of Newton's conception of a force of nature as a force of interaction between bodies characterized by laws of interaction. This work builds on his seminal earlier treatments in “On the Notion of Field in Newton, Maxwell, and Beyond” and “Some Philosophical Prehistory of General Relativity” as well as his celebrated “Newtonian Space-time.” It is further extended in his forthcoming “Newton's Metaphysics.” Stein's work in these papers and others,1 has done much to rescue philosophy of science from what he has characterized (1977, 13–14) as an “abusive empiricism.”

Over and over again my work has benefited by attempts to answer challenges raised by Stein to assumptions I, and others, had been making

This essay has benefited front discussions with Wayne Myrvold, Howard Stein, Abner
Shimony, and Corlis Swain, and also from discussions at presentations I have given at
the Chicago Steinfest Conference and at Western, Cal Tech, Irvine, and Concordia. I
have also benifited from Curtis Wilson's kindliest of proofreading a version. These crit-
ics, Howard especially, are not responsible for any errors I have continued to make.

-71-

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