Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from His Writings

By H. S. Thayer; Isaac Newton | Go to book overview

Editor's Preface

It is a great pity that Newton is so little read, especially in an age that prides itself on being scientifically-minded. For nothing is less scientific than to overlook the fact that present ideas have past antecedents and that present triumphs in science, as in everything else, come only by way of the arduous preparations and labors by which men in the past laid the foundations for subsequent successes. Newton stands as one of the few great men in history who have directed and shaped the course of things present. Not the least of his influence is to have given modern physics its revolutionary character. For we are apt to forget that without Newton's spectacular achievements there would have been far less of a fertile source from which such a revolution could have sprung.

Besides the Principia and occasional appearances of the Optics, the writings of Newton on the whole have remained inaccessible to students of philosophy, science, and literature, as well as to the general reader. It is the aim of this book to fill, to some extent, this unfortunate lacuna; that is, to provide a wider representation of the interests, problems, and characteristically diverse philosophic levels and directions along which Newton's thoughts traveled. Once given the chance, there are few persons who could fail to be interested in or profit by meeting the greatest scientific mind of the seventeenth century. This book was begun with the encouragement and expert advice of Professor John Herman Randall, Jr.; it was also my good fortune to secure his consent to write the Introduction.

The various selections have been grouped under five general headings. While some classification of this sort is necessary, in some instances it may also result in a certain unavoidable artificiality. For example, when Newton begins to talk about gravity, he often concludes with God, and separation of the two topics does some violence to his thought. In important places, in both the text and notes to the selections, where such a connection might be

-vii-

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Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from His Writings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Editor's Preface vii
  • What Isaac Newton Started ix
  • Selections from Newton 1
  • I. The Method of Natural Philosophy 3
  • II. Fundamental Principles of Natural Philosophy 9
  • III. God and Natural Philosophy 41
  • IV. Questions on Natural Philosophy 68
  • V. Questions from the Optics 135
  • Notes 181
  • Selected Bibliography 205
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