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Isaac Newton - revisionist histories

Click here to download the lecture powerpoint

Please read one of the articles under 'Essential reading' and answer the questions for that article only.


How does the author of the article hope to change our understanding of Newton?

What new evidence and/or arguments does he/she bring to the table?

Does he/she make a good case?

Essential reading

Anstey, Peter. ‘The Methodological Origins of Newton’s Queries’. Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35, no. 2 (2004): 247–69.

Henry, John. ‘Occult Qualities and the Experimental Philosophy: Active Principles in Pre-Newtonian Matter Theory’. History of Science 24 (1986): 335–81.

McGuire, J. E., and P. M. Rattansi. ‘Newton and the “Pipes of Pan”’. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 21, no. 2 (1966): 108–43.

Further reading

The best places to start on Isaac Newton are the entry on him in the DSB, and the Cambridge Companion to Newton.

A short but clear account of Newton's contributions to optics and mechanics/astronomy can be found in Westfall, The Construction of Modern Science. A more detailed account can be found in the articles on astronomy, mechanics and optics in CHS3.

Here is a small selection of other important works on the background to Newton's science, his science itself, and the reception of his science:

Buchwald, Jed Z, and I. Bernard Cohen, eds. Isaac Newton’s Natural Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

Buchwald, Jed Z, and Mordechai Feingold. Newton and the Origin of Civilization. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012 - not available at the library, but see John Henry's review, cited below.

Dobbs, Betty. The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy : Or, ‘The Hunting of the Greene Lyon’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Harrison, P. ‘Newtonian Science, Miracles, and the Laws of Nature’. Journal of the History of Ideas 56, no. 4 (1995): 531–53.

Henry, John. ‘Jed Z. Buchwald and Mordechai Feingold: Newton and the Origin of Civilization’. Science & Education 22, no. 9 (September 2013): 2357–62.

Schaffer, Simon. ‘Glass Works: Newton’s Prisms and the Uses of Experiment’. In The Uses of Experiment: Studies in the Natural Sciences, edited by David Gooding, Trevor Pinch, and Simon Schaffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Shapiro, Alan E. ‘Newton’s “Experimental Philosophy”’. Early Science and Medicine 9, no. 3 (2004): 185–217.
Westfall, Richard. Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Shapiro, A. E. ‘The Gradual Acceptance of Newton’s Theory of Light and Color, 1672-1727’. Perspectives on Science 4 (1996): 59–140.