Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from His Writings

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

II. Fundamental Principles of
Natural Philosophy

I. NEWTON'S PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION OF THE PRINCIPIAa

Since the ancients (as we are told by Pappusb) esteemed the science of mechanics of greatest importance in the investigation of natural things, and the moderns, rejecting substantial forms and occult qualities, have endeavored to subject the phenomena of nature to the laws of mathematics, I have in this treatise cultivated mathematics as far as it relates to philosophy. The ancients considered mechanics in a twofold respect: as rational, which proceeds accurately by demonstration, and practical. To practical mechanics all the manual arts belong, from which mechanics took its name. But as artificers do not work with perfect accuracy, it comes to pass that mechanics is so distinguished from geometry that what is perfectly accurate is called geometrical; what is less so is called mechanical. However, the errors are not in the art, but in the artificers. He that works with less accuracy is an imperfect mechanic; and if any could work with perfect accuracy, he would be the most perfect mechanic of all; for the description of right lines and circles, upon which geometry is founded, belongs to mechanics. Geometry does not teach us to draw these lines, but requires them to be drawn; for it requires that the learner should first be taught to describe these accurately before he enters upon geometry, then it shows how by these operations problems may be solved. To describe right lines and circles are problems, but not

____________________
a
[Written at Cambridge, Trinity College, May 8, 1686, the year of publication of the first edition.]
b
[ Pappus was the author of the Synagoge ( "Collection"), the last great treatise of the Alexandrian mathematicians, end of the third century. The Synagoge was a guide to the study of Greek geometry. Many important Greek mathematical results have been preserved for later ages only through the work of Pappus. The Synagoge was written about 320 A.D.; Latin translation, 1589.]

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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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