Monday, April 24, 2017

Isaac Newton and the philosophy of science

Isaac Newton (1642-1726) is an influential physicist best known for discovering the laws of motion and shares credit with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for developing calculus. Mathematician Gerald James Whitrow said,
Due to the genius and labours of Newton almost all the problems presented by the motions of the planets had been mastered. Newton had shown for all time that these motions could be completely accounted for if it were assumed that the same laws of nature, and in particular gravity, operated in the celestial realm as well as in the terrestrial. (The Structure of the Universe, 1949)
Regarding Newton's philosophy, historian Alistair Cameron Crombie said,
[Newton] achieved the clearest appreciation of the relation between the empirical elements in a scientific system and the hypothetical elements derived from a philosophy of nature. (Quoted in Before Galileo by John Freely)
The rest of this post is three quotes from Newton describing his philosophy of science.

Philosophy of science

"The best and safest method of philosophizing seems to be, first to enquire diligently into the properties of things, and to establish these properties by experiment, and then to proceed more slowly to hypothesis for the explanation of them. For hypotheses should be employed only in explaining the properties of things, but not assumed in determining them, unless so far as they may furnish experiments." (Letter to Ignatius Pardies, 1672)

"I keep the subject constantly before me, and wait 'till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light." (Quoted in Biographia Britannica)

"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." (Quoted in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster)

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