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date: 06 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes various aspects of the impact on philosophy of Newton’s Principia. It shows how Newton’s achievement dramatically influenced debates over the way subsequent philosophers conceived of their activity, and thus prepared the way for an institutional and methodological split between philosophy and science. These large-scale themes are illustrated by attention to a number of detailed debates over the nature and importance of Newton’s legacy: debates concerning gravity and matter theory, the status of Newton’s “laws of motion”, the role of final causes in natural philosophy, and the interpretation of Newton’s “rules for the study of natural philosophy”. Important contributors to these debates included Hume, Colin Maclaurin, Priestley, and Reid. The chapter also includes discussion of how eighteenth-century philosophers (in particular Adam Smith) understood Newton’s place in the history of science.

Keywords: Newton, philosophy, natural philosophy, science, methodology, gravity, matter theory, final causes, Hume, Reid, Smith, history of science

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