University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Principia and the air-pump: the social and political roots of Newton's science

Principia and the air-pump: the social and political roots of Newton's science

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Historical accounts both of the genesis of Newton’s scientific method and of the varied reception his published work enjoyed in the late 17th century have appealed to his touchy personality and to the relative incompetence of his critics. In offering asymmetric explanations and indulging in simplistic psychologizing, this approach has serious limitations. By contrast, in this talk I examine what Newton’s private and public writings say about what he took to be the ideal structure of a truth-seeking scientific community. Unlike more democratic proposals for practising natural philosophy, whose core principles were drawn from natural history, Newton’s ideal scientific polity was strongly hierarchical, open only to expert subjects who had undergone rigorous training. I link Newton’s comments on the structure of scientific institutions to his prescriptions for maintaining a healthy and productive mind and body, and also to his religious and political views. I conclude by considering the explanatory status of such approaches.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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