The Cambridge Companion to Newton

By I. Bernard Cohen; George E. Smith | Go to book overview

8
Newton's metaphysics
HOWARD STEIN

When one speaks of Newton's “metaphysics, ” it should be noted that the word itself was rarely used by Newton; further, that in point of general philosophical usage, that word has not had in our own time a fixed and well-established acceptation. For the purposes of the present study, a rather broad view will be adopted-suggested on the one hand by Newton's most influential near predecessor, the previous author of a book called Principia Philosophiae,1 Descartes, according to whom metaphysics treats of the principles of [all]knowledge, and serves as the root of the “tree of philosophy” (whose “trunk” is physics, and whose “branches” are what we should call the “applied sciences”); 2 and on the other by the author of the article “Metaphysics” in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Thomas Case, who summarizes the concern of this discipline in the two questions: “1. What is the world of things we know? 2. How do we know it?” 3 Thus metaphysics will here be understood to be the discussion of the most general features, both of the constitution of the world, and of the principles of human inquiry into the nature of the world.

It will be useful for our discussion to put Newton's position in comparison with that of Descartes; for the work of the latter was both enormously influential in general-in the seventeenth century, and also, so far as metaphysics (in contrast to natural philosophy) is concerned, right down to the present day-and of great moment for Newton in particular.

On the methodological side, Descartes's program for a reformation of knowledge-for the establishment of a science that should be both secure in its theoretical attainments and of unexampled power in its aid to the control of the natural conditions of human life 4–was

-256-

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The Cambridge Companion to Newton
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Figures vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes *
  • 1 - Newton's Philosophical Analysis of Space and Time 33
  • Notes *
  • 2 - Newton's Concepts of Force and Mass, with Notes on the Laws of Motion 57
  • Notes *
  • 3 - Curvature in Newton's Dynamics 85
  • Notes *
  • 4 - The Methodology of the Principia 138
  • Notes *
  • 5 - Newton's Argument for Universal Gravitation 174
  • Notes *
  • 6 - Newton and Celestial Mechanics 202
  • Notes *
  • 7 - Newton's Optics and Atomism 227
  • Notes *
  • 8 - Newton's Metaphysics 256
  • Notes *
  • 9 - Analysis and Synthesis in Newton's Mathematical Work 308
  • Notes *
  • 10 - Newton, Active Powers, and the Mechanical Philosophy 329
  • Notes *
  • 11 - The Background to Newton's Chymistry 358
  • Notes *
  • 12 - Newton's Alchemy 370
  • Notes *
  • 13 - Newton on Prophecy and the Apocalypse 387
  • Notes *
  • 14 - Newton and Eighteenth-Century Christianity 409
  • Notes *
  • 15 - Newton Versus Leibniz: from Geometry to Metaphysics 431
  • Notes *
  • 16 - Newton and the Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence 455
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography 465
  • Index 481
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