Quaestiones quaedam philosophicae

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Quaestiones quaedam philosophicae (Certain philosophical questions) is the name given to a set of notes that Isaac Newton kept for himself during his earlier years in Cambridge. They concern questions in the natural philosophy of the day that interested him. Apart from the light it throws on the formation of his own agenda for research, the major interest in these notes is the documentation of the unaided development of the scientific method in the mind of Newton, whereby every question is put to experimental test.

Isaac Newton Influential British physicist and mathematician

Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author who is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time, and a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687, laid the foundations of classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics, and shares credit with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for developing the infinitesimal calculus.

Natural philosophy ancient philosophical study of nature and physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science

Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.

Contents

Introduction

The Quaestiones are contained in an octavo notebook, currently in the Cambridge University Library, which was Newton's basic notebook in which he set down in 1661 his readings in the required curriculum in Cambridge and his later readings in mechanical philosophy. He entered notes from both ends. The initial notes, in Greek, were on Aristotle's logic at one end and his ethics, at the other.

Cambridge University Library main research library of the University of Cambridge in England

Cambridge University Library is the main research library of the University of Cambridge in England. It is also the largest of 114 libraries within the University. The Library is a major scholarly resource for the members of the University of Cambridge and external researchers. It is often referred to within the University as the UL. Twenty-one affiliate libraries are associated with the University Library for the purpose of central governance and administration.

The mechanical philosophy is a natural philosophy describing the universe as similar to a large-scale mechanism. Mechanical philosophy is associated with the scientific revolution of Early Modern Europe. One of the first expositions of universal mechanism is found in the opening passages of Leviathan by Hobbes published in 1651.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

But following this, he drew a line across the page, below which appears his first notes on the new natural philosophy of his day— a compendium of limits on the radii of stars as determined by Galileo and Auzout. At the other end of the book, he interrupted his notes on Aristotle with two pages of notes on Descartes' metaphysics.

Galileo Galilei Italian polymath (1564-1642)

Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer, sometimes described as a polymath. Galileo has been called the "father of observational astronomy", the "father of modern physics", the "father of the scientific method", and the "father of modern science".

Adrien Auzout French astronomer

Adrien Auzout [pronounced in French somewhat like o-zoo] was a French astronomer.

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. He is generally considered one of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age.

Following this, the central approximately hundred pages of this notebook is entitled Questiones quadem Philosophcae [sic], and a later motto over the title Amicus Plato amicus Aristotle magis amica veritas (Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my best friend is truth).

Dating

The start of Quaestiones is definitely after 8 July 1661, the date on which Newton arrived at Trinity College. It is also definitely before 9 December 1664, on which day (and the following) he made notes of his observations of a comet. Other datings of the first entries are based on his handwriting— which changed drastically between the early notes of 1661 and later notes which can be dated independently to 1665. The transitional handwriting which characterizes the early parts of Quaestiones can only be independently dated to roughly 1664. This was written during a period when Newton was actively developing the notion of calculus, but mathematics made no real appearance in this notebook.

Contents

The Quaestiones contains notes from Newton's thorough reading of Descartes, Walter Charlton's translation of Gassendi into English, Galileo Galilei's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems , Robert Boyle, Thomas Hobbes, Kenelm Digby, Joseph Glanvill and Henry More, and others. These were set down under 45 section headings which he used to organize his readings. They began with the nature of matter, place, time and motion and went on to the organization of the universe. This was followed by what would be classed today as properties of condensed matter, for example, rarity, fluidity, hardness etc. These were followed by questions on violent motion, light, colour, vision, and other sensations. The last part contains miscellaneous topics which presumably occurred to him later during his readings: "Of God", "Of ye Creation", "Of ye soule" and "Of Sleepe and Dreams &c". Some headings were followed by vast entries, which had to be continued elsewhere; others were blank. The earlier essays were organized into questions and outlines of possible experiments which roughly fit into modern notions of science, not the broader ancient notion of philosophy.

Pierre Gassendi French philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, priest, and scientist

Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, priest, astronomer, and mathematician. While he held a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals. He was also an active observational scientist, publishing the first data on the transit of Mercury in 1631. The lunar crater Gassendi is named after him.

<i>Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems</i> book by Galileo Galilei

The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems is a 1632 Italian-language book by Galileo Galilei comparing the Copernican system with the traditional Ptolemaic system. It was translated into Latin as Systema cosmicum in 1635 by Matthias Bernegger. The book was dedicated to Galileo's patron, Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who received the first printed copy on February 22, 1632.

Robert Boyle Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor

Robert Boyle was an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor. Boyle is largely regarded today as the first modern chemist, and therefore one of the founders of modern chemistry, and one of the pioneers of modern experimental scientific method. He is best known for Boyle's law, which describes the inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system. Among his works, The Sceptical Chymist is seen as a cornerstone book in the field of chemistry. He was a devout and pious Anglican and is noted for his writings in theology.

Gravity

The topic of gravity was not dealt with in a single section, showing that his understanding of the matter was still far from well developed. In a section on perpetual motion machines (folio 121) he wrote

Whether ye rays of gravity may be stopped by reflecting or refracting ym, if so a perpetual motion may be made one of these ways.

Elsewhere, in his notes on Kepler's laws of planetary motion that he read about in the book Astronomiae carolina by Thomas Streete, he reached the conclusion that gravity must not merely act on the surfaces of bodies but on their interiors.

Keplers laws of planetary motion Scientific laws describing motion of planets around the Sun

In astronomy, Kepler's laws of planetary motion are three scientific laws describing the motion of planets around the Sun.

On violent motion

In Aristotlean physics, bodies are subject to either natural motion, such as when a heavy body falls, or violent motion such as when a heavy body is thrown up. Although this essay was written following his reading of Descartes and Galileo, by its title it shows that Newton did not reject pre-Galilean mechanics tout court.

Nature of light

Descartes believed that he was the first to obtain the law of refraction of light and paid great attention to it as well as to the well-known classical law of reflection. Descartes hypothesized that light is pressure, transmitted instantaneously through a transparent medium. Gassendi, on the contrary, held that light is a stream of tiny particles traveling with immense speed. Newton questioned Descartes' theory in many ways; in folio 103 he wrote—

Light cannot be pressure for we should see in the night as well or better in the day we should be a bright light above us because we are pressed downwards ... there could be no refraction since same matter cannot press 2 ways. a little body interposed could not hinder us from seeing pressure could not render shapes so distinct. sun could not be quite eclipsed Moone & planets would shine like suns. When a fire or candle is extinguished we looking another way should see a light.

Nature of colour

The then-current theory of color held that white light was elementary and that colors arose from mixtures of light and dark. Newton criticised this theory by noting that in that case a printed page, with its juxtaposition of light and dark, would look colored. In folio 122 he recorded for the first time his notion that white light is heterogeneous and color arise, not through the modification of a homogeneous white light, but from the separation of this mixture into its components. Newton also mentions Hooke's theory of color, including his idea that it is a wave. Newton dismisses this theory with the remark that then light should bend around edges of objects as sounds do.

Of atoms

Newton seems to have come across the idea of atomism through his knowledge of Gassendi gained by reading Charleton's Physiologia. He argued against continua and asserted the need for atoms. His acceptance of the corpuscular theory of light may have been affected by this.

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