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History of Science Online

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LibraryThing: Newton Week 15: Newton

Reading 2: Primary Sources

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
3 Thursday
11:59 p.m.

Topic2 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The second of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

To understand Newton it's good not only to read about Newton, but to read some of his writings for yourself. The following Exhibits Online provide a sample of excerpts from Newton, introduced with minimal commentary. Read the brief comments and then click the screenshots to read excerpts from Newton's works.

    1. Laws of MotionNewton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
    2. Newton's Opticks: Analysis and synthesis, the composite nature of white light, and the reflecting telescope. (not much is available here this semester)
    3. Newton's Theology: Excerpts from Newton's alchemical manuscripts, "General Scholium," and Observations on the Book of Daniel. (Be sure to read the General Scholium.)
    4. Further Study


Optional: Facsimile images of several hundred pages from Newton's works are available here.

TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, 2 points each.

  1. T or F? Newton argued that physics should be qualitative rather than mathematical.
  2. T or F? The General Scholium appeared in Book III of the first edition of the Principia (1687).
  3. T or F? Newton referred to his laws of motion as "axioms."
  4. T or F? Newton derived the Galilean laws of free fall in Book III, The System of the World.
  5. T or F? Newton attempted to provide a complete foundation for physics based on logical demonstration by reference only to matter in motion.
  6. T or F? Cartesian mechanistic philosophers aimed to produce a physics that would provide probable or provisional knowledge.
  7. T or F? To Cartesians, mathematical explanations like Newton's law of gravity were seriously incomplete because they offered no mechanism to account for the cause of gravity.
  8. T or F? Phenomenalism refers to the view that scientific explanations must include the essences of things, known through their necessary causes.
  9. T or F? Newton accepted Aristotle's dichotomy between the heavenly realms above the Moon and the terrestrial realms below the Moon.
  10. T or F? Newton argued that physics should be qualitative rather than mathematical.
  11. T or F? Instead of offering speculative mechanistic explanations, Newton argued that it is sufficient in science to offer mathematical equations that quantitatively describe how gravity works.
  12. T or F? Newton's Optics (1604) represents the triumph of mathematical physics.
  13. T or F? Leibniz stole the calculus from Newton.
  14. T or F? Historians such as Dobbs attribute Newton's willingness to entertain concepts of forces acting at great distances to his alchemical investigations.
  15. T or F? Many historians attribute Newton’s empirical methods to his voluntarist theology, in which nature was regarded as contingent because of the freedom of the divine will, in contrast to rational necessity.
  16. T or F? In the General Scholium, Newton argued that the system of the Sun, planets and comets could only arise from the orderly operations of the laws of nature acting upon a cosmos of matter in motion.
  17. T or F? In the General Scholium, Newton argued that through a combination of reason and experiment we can attain knowledge of the inward substances or essences of things.
  18. T or F? In the General Scholium, Newton argued that blind necessity would produce a tremendous variety of things in different places and times.
  19. T or F? In the General Scholium, Newton framed several hypotheses about possible causes of gravitational attraction in order to make his mathematical physics more plausible.


Do you have a great quote for this page? Let me know! (If used, a new quote is worth 1 point extra credit)

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux