Newton’s Empiricism and Metaphysics

Philosophy Compass 5 (7):525-534 (2010)
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Commentators attempting to understand the empirical method that Isaac Newton applies in his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687) are forced to grapple with the thorny issue of how to reconcile Newton's rejection of hypotheses with his appeal to absolute space. On the one hand, Newton claims that his experimental philosophy does not rely on claims that are assumed without empirical evidence, and on the other hand, Newton appeals to an absolute space that, by his own characterization, does not make any impressions on our senses. Howard Stein (1967, 2002) has offered an insightful strategy for reconciling this apparent contradiction and suggested a way to enhance our understanding of Newton's 'empiricism' such that absolute space can be preserved as a legitimate part of Newton's experimental project. Recently, Andrew Janiak (2008) has posed a worthy challenge to Stein's empirical reading of Newton and directed our attention to the metaphysical commitments that underlie the experimental philosophy of Newton's Principia . Although Stein and Janiak disagree on the degree to which Newton's empiricism influences his natural philosophy, both agree and clearly show that an adequate treatment of Newton's empiricism cannot be divorced from consideration of Newton's views on God and God's relationship to nature.



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Mary Domski
University of New Mexico

Citations of this work

Newton and Proclus: Geometry, imagination, and knowing space.Mary Domski - 2012 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 50 (3):389-413.
Newton and scholastic philosophy.Dmitri Levitin - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Science 49 (1):53-77.
Space and motion in nature and Scripture: Galileo, Descartes, Newton.Andrew Janiak - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 51:89-99.

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References found in this work

Newtonian space-time.Howard Stein - 1967 - Texas Quarterly 10 (3):174--200.
Newton as Philosopher.Andrew Janiak - 2008 - Cambridge University Press.
Mathematical principles of natural philosophy.Isaac Newton - 1726 - In Aloysius Martinich, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Early Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell.
Foundations of Space-Time Theories.Micheal Friedman - 1983 - Princeton University Press.

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