(25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727 ) was an English physicist
, natural philosopher
, and theologian
, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist
who ever lived."
His monograph Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, lays the foundations for most of classical mechanics
. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion
, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe
for the next three centuries.
I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called a hypothesis, and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy.
To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. 'Tis much better to do a little with certainty, & leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of any thing.
By always thinking unto them. ... I keep the subject constantly before me and wait till the first dawnings open little by little into the full light.
(25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727 ) was an English physicist
, natural philosopher
, and theologian
, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist
who ever lived."
His monograph Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, lays the foundations for most of classical mechanics
. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion
, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe
for the next three centuries. Newton showed that the motions of objects on Earth
and of celestial
bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws, by demonstrating the consistency between Kepler's laws of planetary motion
and his theory of gravitation, thus removing the last doubts about heliocentrism
and advancing the Scientific Revolution
. The Principia is generally considered to be one of the most important scientific books ever written.
Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope
and developed a theory of colour based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colours that form the visible spectrum
. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling and studied the speed of sound
In mathematics, Newton shares the credit with Gottfried Leibniz
for the development
of differential and integral calculus
. He also demonstrated the generalised binomial theorem
, developed Newton's method
for approximating the roots of a function, and contributed to the study of power series.
Newton was also highly religious. He was an unorthodox Christian
, and wrote more on Biblical hermeneutics
and occult studies
than on science and mathematics, the subjects he is mainly associated with. Newton secretly rejected Trinitarianism, fearing to be accused of refusing holy orders
Early lifeIsaac Newton was born on what is retroactively considered 4 January 1643
: 25 December 1642
, a hamlet
in the county of Lincolnshire
. At the time of Newton's birth, England had not adopted the Gregorian calendar
and therefore his date of birth was recorded as Christmas Day, 25 December 1642. Newton was born three months after the death of his father, a prosperous farmer also named Isaac Newton. Born prematurely
, he was a small child; his mother Hannah Ayscough
reportedly said that he could have fit inside a quart
mug (≈ 1.1 litres). When Newton was three, his mother remarried and went to live with her new husband, the Reverend Barnabus Smith, leaving her son in the care of his maternal grandmother, Margery Ayscough. The young Isaac disliked his stepfather and held some enmity towards his mother for marrying him, as revealed by this entry in a list of sins committed up to the age of 19: "Threatening my father and mother Smith to burn them and the house over them." While Newton was once engaged in his late teens to a Miss Storey, he never married, being highly engrossed in his studies and work.
(where his alleged signature can still be seen upon a library window sill). He was removed from school, and by October 1659, he was to be found at Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth
, where his mother, widowed by now for a second time, attempted to make a farmer of him. He hated farming. Henry Stokes, master at the King's School, persuaded his mother to send him back to school so that he might complete his education. Motivated partly by a desire for revenge against a schoolyard bully, he became the top-ranked student. The Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen
considers it "fairly certain" that Newton suffered from Asperger syndrome
In June 1661, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge
as a sizar
– a sort of work-study role. At that time, the college's teachings were based on those of Aristotle
, but Newton preferred to read the more advanced ideas of modern philosophers, such as Descartes
, and of astronomers such as Copernicus
, and Kepler
. In 1665, he discovered the generalised binomial theorem
and began to develop a mathematical theory that later became infinitesimal calculus
. Soon after Newton had obtained his degree in August 1665, the university temporarily closed as a precaution against the Great Plague
. Although he had been undistinguished as a Cambridge student, Newton's private studies at his home in Woolsthorpe over the subsequent two years saw the development of his theories on calculus, optics
and the law of gravitation. In 1667, he returned to Cambridge as a fellow of Trinity. Fellows were required to become ordained priests, something Newton desired to avoid due to his unorthodox views. Luckily for Newton, there was no specific deadline for ordination and it could be postponed indefinitely. The problem became more severe later when Newton was elected for the prestigious Lucasian Chair. For such a significant appointment, ordaining normally could not be dodged. Nevertheless, Newton managed to avoid it by means of a special permission from Charles II (see "Middle years" section below).
MathematicsNewton's work has been said "to distinctly advance every branch of mathematics then studied".
His work on the subject usually referred to as fluxions or calculus is seen, for example, in a manuscript of October 1666, now published among Newton's mathematical papers. A related subject was infinite series. Newton's manuscript "De analysi per aequationes numero terminorum infinitas" ("On analysis by equations infinite in number of terms") was sent by Isaac Barrow
to John Collins
in June 1669: in August 1669 Barrow identified its author to Collins as "Mr Newton, a fellow of our College, and very young ... but of an extraordinary genius and proficiency in these things".
Newton later became involved in a dispute with Leibniz over priority in the development of infinitesimal calculus. Most modern historians believe that Newton and Leibniz developed infinitesimal calculus
independently, although with very different notations. Occasionally it has been suggested that Newton published almost nothing about it until 1693, and did not give a full account until 1704, while Leibniz began publishing a full account of his methods in 1684. (Leibniz's notation and "differential Method", nowadays recognised as much more convenient notations, were adopted by continental European mathematicians, and after 1820 or so, also by British mathematicians.) Such a suggestion, however, fails to notice the content of calculus which critics of Newton's time and modern times have pointed out in Book 1 of Newton's Principia itself (published 1687) and in its forerunner manuscripts, such as De motu corporum in gyrum
("On the motion of bodies in orbit"), of 1684. The Principia is not written in the language of calculus either as we know it or as Newton's (later) 'dot' notation would write it. But his work extensively uses an infinitesimal calculus in geometric form, based on limiting values of the ratios of vanishing small quantities: in the Principia itself Newton gave demonstration of this under the name of 'the method of first and last ratios' and explained why he put his expositions in this form, remarking also that 'hereby the same thing is performed as by the method of indivisibles'.
Because of this, the Principia has been called "a book dense with the theory and application of the infinitesimal calculus" in modern times and "lequel est presque tout de ce calcul" ('nearly all of it is of this calculus') in Newton's time. His use of methods involving "one or more orders of the infinitesimally small" is present in his De motu corporum in gyrum of 1684 and in his papers on motion "during the two decades preceding 1684".
Newton had been reluctant to publish his calculus because he feared controversy and criticism. He had a very close relationship with Swiss mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier
, who from the beginning was impressed by Newton's gravitational theory. In 1691, Duillier planned to prepare a new version of Newton's Principia, but never finished it. However, in 1693 the relationship between the two men changed. At the time, Duillier had also exchanged several letters with Leibniz.
Starting in 1699, other members of the Royal Society
(of which Newton was a member) accused Leibniz of plagiarism
, and the dispute broke out in full force in 1711. The Royal Society proclaimed in a study that it was Newton who was the true discoverer and labelled Leibniz a fraud. This study was cast into doubt when it was later found that Newton himself wrote the study's concluding remarks on Leibniz. Thus began the bitter controversy which marred the lives of both Newton and Leibniz until the latter's death in 1716.
Newton is generally credited with the generalised binomial theorem, valid for any exponent. He discovered Newton's identities
, Newton's method
, classified cubic plane curves (polynomials of degree three in two variables
), made substantial contributions to the theory of finite differences, and was the first to use fractional indices and to employ coordinate geometry to derive solutions to Diophantine equations. He approximated partial sums of the harmonic series
by logarithms (a precursor to Euler's summation formula), and was the first to use power series with confidence and to revert power series.
He was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1669 on Barrow's recommendation. In that day, any fellow of Cambridge or Oxford was required to become an ordained Anglican
priest. However, the terms of the Lucasian professorship required that the holder not be active in the church (presumably so as to have more time for science). Newton argued that this should exempt him from the ordination requirement, and Charles II
, whose permission was needed, accepted this argument. Thus a conflict between Newton's religious views and Anglican orthodoxy was averted.
of light, demonstrating that a prism could decompose white light
into a spectrum of colours, and that a lens
and a second prism could recompose the multicoloured spectrum into white light.
He also showed that the coloured light does not change its properties by separating out a coloured beam and shining it on various objects. Newton noted that regardless of whether it was reflected or scattered or transmitted, it stayed the same colour. Thus, he observed that colour is the result of objects interacting with already-coloured light rather than objects generating the colour themselves. This is known as Newton's theory of colour.
From this work, he concluded that the lens of any refracting telescope
would suffer from the dispersion
of light into colours (chromatic aberration
). As a proof of the concept, he constructed a telescope using a mirror as the objective
to bypass that problem. Building the design, the first known functional reflecting telescope, today known as a Newtonian telescope
, involved solving the problem of a suitable mirror material and shaping technique. Newton ground his own mirrors out of a custom composition of highly reflective speculum metal
, using Newton's rings
to judge the quality
of the optics for his telescopes. In late 1668 he was able to produce this first reflecting telescope. In 1671, the Royal Society asked for a demonstration of his reflecting telescope. Their interest encouraged him to publish his notes On Colour, which he later expanded into his Opticks
. When Robert Hooke
criticised some of Newton's ideas, Newton was so offended that he withdrew from public debate. Newton and Hooke had brief exchanges in 1679–80, when Hooke, appointed to manage the Royal Society's correspondence, opened up a correspondence intended to elicit contributions from Newton to Royal Society transactions, which had the effect of stimulating Newton to work out a proof that the elliptical form of planetary orbits would result from a centripetal force inversely proportional to the square of the radius vector (see Newton's law of universal gravitation – History and De motu corporum in gyrum
). But the two men remained generally on poor terms until Hooke's death.
Newton argued that light is composed of particles or corpuscles, which were refracted by accelerating into a denser medium. He verged on soundlike waves to explain the repeated pattern of reflection and transmission by thin films (Opticks Bk.II, Props. 12), but still retained his theory of ‘fits’ that disposed corpuscles to be reflected or transmitted (Props.13). Later physicists instead favoured a purely wavelike explanation of light to account for the interference patterns, and the general phenomenon of diffraction
. Today's quantum mechanics
, photons and the idea of wave–particle duality
bear only a minor resemblance to Newton's understanding of light.
In his Hypothesis of Light of 1675, Newton posited the existence of the ether
to transmit forces between particles. The contact with the theosophist Henry More
, revived his interest in alchemy. He replaced the ether with occult forces based on Hermetic
ideas of attraction and repulsion between particles. John Maynard Keynes
, who acquired many of Newton's writings on alchemy, stated that "Newton was not the first of the age of reason: He was the last of the magicians." Newton's interest in alchemy cannot be isolated from his contributions to science; however, he did apparently abandon his alchemical researches. (This was at a time when there was no clear distinction between alchemy and science.) Had he not relied on the occult
idea of action at a distance
, across a vacuum, he might not have developed his theory of gravity. (See also Isaac Newton's occult studies
In 1704, Newton published Opticks
, in which he expounded his corpuscular theory of light. He considered light to be made up of extremely subtle corpuscles, that ordinary matter was made of grosser corpuscles and speculated that through a kind of alchemical transmutation "Are not gross Bodies and Light convertible into one another, ...and may not Bodies receive much of their Activity from the Particles of Light which enter their Composition?" Newton also constructed a primitive form of a frictional electrostatic generator
, using a glass globe (Optics, 8th Query).
In an article entitled "Newton, prisms, and the 'opticks' of tunable lasers it is indicated that Newton in his book Opticks
was the first to show a diagram using a prism as a beam expander. In the same book he describes, via diagrams, the use of multiple-prism arrays. Some 278 years after Newton's discussion, multiple-prism beam expanders became central to the development of narrow-linewidth
s. Also, the use of these prismatic beam expanders led to the multiple-prism dispersion theory
Mechanics and gravitation
) mechanics, i.e., gravitation and its effect on the orbits of planet
s, with reference to Kepler's laws of planetary motion. This followed stimulation by a brief exchange of letters in 1679–80 with Hooke, who had been appointed to manage the Royal Society's correspondence, and who opened a correspondence intended to elicit contributions from Newton to Royal Society transactions. Newton's reawakening interest in astronomical matters received further stimulus by the appearance of a comet in the winter of 1680–1681, on which he corresponded with John Flamsteed
. After the exchanges with Hooke, Newton worked out a proof that the elliptical form of planetary orbits would result from a centripetal force inversely proportional to the square of the radius vector (see Newton's law of universal gravitation – History and De motu corporum in gyrum). Newton communicated his results to Edmond Halley
and to the Royal Society in De motu corporum in gyrum
, a tract written on about 9 sheets which was copied into the Royal Society's Register Book in December 1684. This tract contained the nucleus that Newton developed and expanded to form the Principia.
The Principia was published on 5 July 1687 with encouragement and financial help from Edmond Halley
. In this work, Newton stated the three universal laws of motion that enabled many of the advances of the Industrial Revolution
which soon followed and were not to be improved upon for more than 200 years, and are still the underpinnings of the non-relativistic technologies of the modern world. He used the Latin word gravitas (weight) for the effect that would become known as gravity, and defined the law of universal gravitation
In the same work, Newton presented a calculus-like method of geometrical analysis by 'first and last ratios', gave the first analytical determination (based on Boyle's law
) of the speed of sound in air, inferred the oblateness of the spheroidal figure of the Earth, accounted for the precession of the equinoxes as a result of the Moon's gravitational attraction on the Earth's oblateness, initiated the gravitational study of the irregularities in the motion of the moon, provided a theory for the determination of the orbits of comets, and much more.
Newton made clear his heliocentric view of the solar system – developed in a somewhat modern way, because already in the mid-1680s he recognised the "deviation of the Sun" from the centre of gravity of the solar system. For Newton, it was not precisely the centre of the Sun or any other body that could be considered at rest, but rather "the common centre of gravity of the Earth, the Sun and all the Planets is to be esteem'd the Centre of the World", and this centre of gravity "either is at rest or moves uniformly forward in a right line" (Newton adopted the "at rest" alternative in view of common consent that the centre, wherever it was, was at rest).
Newton's postulate of an invisible force able to act over vast distances
led to him being criticised for introducing "occult
agencies" into science. Later, in the second edition of the Principia (1713), Newton firmly rejected such criticisms in a concluding General Scholium
, writing that it was enough that the phenomena implied a gravitational attraction, as they did; but they did not so far indicate its cause, and it was both unnecessary and improper to frame hypotheses of things that were not implied by the phenomena. (Here Newton used what became his famous expression Hypotheses non fingo
With the Principia, Newton became internationally recognised. He acquired a circle of admirers, including the Swiss
-born mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier
, with whom he formed an intense relationship that lasted until 1693, when it abruptly ended, at the same time that Newton suffered a nervous breakdown
In the 1690s, Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. Henry More
's belief in the Universe and rejection of Cartesian dualism may have influenced Newton's religious ideas. A manuscript he sent to John Locke
in which he disputed the existence of the Trinity
was never published. Later works The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728) and Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John (1733) were published after his death. He also devoted a great deal of time to alchemy
Newton was also a member of the Parliament of England
from 1689 to 1690 and in 1701, but according to some accounts his only comments were to complain about a cold draught in the chamber and request that the window be closed.
Newton moved to London to take up the post of warden of the Royal Mint
in 1696, a position that he had obtained through the patronage of Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax
, then Chancellor of the Exchequer
. He took charge of England's great recoining, somewhat treading on the toes of Lord Lucas, Governor of the Tower (and securing the job of deputy comptroller
of the temporary Chester branch for Edmond Halley). Newton became perhaps the best-known Master of the Mint
upon the death of Thomas Neale
in 1699, a position Newton held until his death. These appointments were intended as sinecure
s, but Newton took them seriously, retiring from his Cambridge duties in 1701, and exercising his power to reform the currency and punish clippers
and counterfeiters. As Master of the Mint in 1717 in the "Law of Queen Anne
" Newton moved the Pound Sterling
de facto from the silver standard
to the gold standard
by setting the bimetallic relationship between gold coins and the silver penny in favour of gold. This caused silver sterling coin to be melted and shipped out of Britain. Newton was made President of the Royal Society
in 1703 and an associate of the French Académie des Sciences
. In his position at the Royal Society, Newton made an enemy of John Flamsteed
, the Astronomer Royal
, by prematurely publishing Flamsteed's Historia Coelestis Britannica, which Newton had used in his studies.
In April 1705, Queen Anne knighted
Newton during a royal visit to Trinity College, Cambridge. The knighthood is likely to have been motivated by political considerations connected with the Parliamentary election in May 1705, rather than any recognition of Newton's scientific work or services as Master of the Mint. Newton was the second scientist to be knighted, after Sir Francis Bacon
Towards the end of his life, Newton took up residence at Cranbury Park
, near Winchester
with his niece and her husband, until his death in 1727. Newton died in his sleep in London on 31 March 1727
: 20 March 1726
. His half-niece, Catherine Barton Conduitt, served as his hostess in social affairs at his house on Jermyn Street
in London; he was her "very loving Uncle," according to his letter to her when she was recovering from smallpox
. Newton, a bachelor, had divested much of his estate to relatives during his last years, and died intestate
After his death, Newton's body was discovered to have had massive amounts of mercury
in it, probably resulting from his alchemical pursuits. Mercury poisoning
could explain Newton's eccentricity in late life.
FameFrench mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange
often said that Newton was the greatest genius who ever lived, and once added that Newton was also "the most fortunate, for we cannot find more than once a system of the world to establish." English poet Alexander Pope
was moved by Newton's accomplishments to write the famous epitaph
Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night;
God said "Let Newton be" and all was light.
Newton himself had been rather more modest of his own achievements, famously writing in a letter to Robert Hooke
in February 1676:
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Two writers think that the above quote, written at a time when Newton and Hooke were in dispute over optical discoveries, was an oblique attack on Hooke (said to have been short and hunchbacked), rather than or in addition to a statement of modesty. On the other hand, the widely known proverb about standing on the shoulders of giants
published among others by 17th-century poet George Herbert
(a former orator of the University of Cambridge and fellow of Trinity College) in his Jacula Prudentum (1651), had as its main point that "a dwarf on a giant's shoulders sees farther of the two", and so its effect as an analogy would place Newton himself rather than Hooke as the 'dwarf'.
In a later memoir, Newton wrote:
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.
kept a picture of Newton on his study wall alongside ones of Michael Faraday
and James Clerk Maxwell
. Newton remains influential to today's scientists, as demonstrated by a 2005 survey of members of Britain's Royal Society
(formerly headed by Newton) asking who had the greater effect on the history of science, Newton or Einstein. Royal Society scientists deemed Newton to have made the greater overall contribution. In 1999, an opinion poll of 100 of today's leading physicists voted Einstein the "greatest physicist ever;" with Newton the runner-up, while a parallel survey of rank-and-file physicists by the site PhysicsWeb gave the top spot to Newton.
. The monument features a figure of Newton reclining on top of a sarcophagus, his right elbow resting on several of his great books and his left hand pointing to a scroll with a mathematical design. Above him is a pyramid and a celestial globe showing the signs of the Zodiac and the path of the comet of 1680. A relief panel depicts putti using instruments such as a telescope and prism. The Latin inscription on the base translates as:
Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race! He was born on 25 December 1642, and died on 20 March 1726/7. — Translation from G.L. Smyth, The Monuments and Genii of St. Paul's Cathedral, and of Westminster Abbey (1826), ii, 703–4.
From 1978 until 1988, an image of Newton designed by Harry Ecclestone appeared on Series D £1 banknotes issued by the Bank of England
(the last £1 notes to be issued by the Bank of England). Newton was shown on the reverse of the notes holding a book and accompanied by a telescope, a prism and a map of the Solar System
A statue of Isaac Newton, looking at an apple at his feet, can be seen at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
. 'In Newton's eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry
, to him the fundamental sin'. Historian Stephen D. Snobelen
says of Newton, "Isaac Newton was a heretic
. But ... he never made a public declaration of his private faith — which the orthodox would have deemed extremely radical. He hid his faith so well that scholars are still unravelling his personal beliefs." Snobelen concludes that Newton was at least a Socinian sympathiser (he owned and had thoroughly read at least eight Socinian books), possibly an Arian
and almost certainly an anti-trinitarian. In an age notable for its religious intolerance, there are few public expressions of Newton's radical views, most notably his refusal to take holy orders and his refusal, on his death bed, to take the sacrament
when it was offered to him.
In a view disputed by Snobelen, T.C. Pfizenmaier argues that Newton held the Arian
view of the Trinity rather than the Western one held by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and most Protestants.
Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton's best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the Universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done."
His scientific fame notwithstanding, Newton's studies of the Bible and of the early Church Fathers
were also noteworthy. Newton wrote works on textual criticism
, most notably An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture
. He also placed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at 3 April, AD 33, which agrees with one traditionally accepted date. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to find hidden messages within the Bible
Newton wrote more on religion than he did on natural science. He believed in a rationally immanent world, but he rejected the hylozoism
implicit in Leibniz and Baruch Spinoza
. Thus, the ordered and dynamically informed Universe could be understood, and must be understood, by an active reason. In his correspondence, Newton claimed that in writing the Principia "I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity". He saw evidence of design in the system of the world: "Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system must be allowed the effect of choice". But Newton insisted that divine intervention would eventually be required to reform the system, due to the slow growth of instabilities. For this, Leibniz
lampooned him: "God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion." Newton's position was vigorously defended by his follower Samuel Clarke
in a famous correspondence
Effect on religious thoughtNewton and Robert Boyle
's mechanical philosophy was promoted by rationalist pamphleteer
s as a viable alternative to the pantheists
, and was accepted hesitantly by orthodox preachers as well as dissident preachers like the latitudinarian
s. Thus, the clarity and simplicity of science was seen as a way to combat the emotional and metaphysical
superlatives of both superstitious
enthusiasm and the threat of atheism
, and, at the same time, the second wave of English deists
used Newton's discoveries to demonstrate the possibility of a "Natural Religion".
"magical thinking", and the mystical elements of Christianity
, were given their foundation with Boyle's mechanical conception of the Universe. Newton gave Boyle's ideas their completion through mathematical proof
s and, perhaps more importantly, was very successful in popularising them. Newton refashioned the world governed by an interventionist God into a world crafted by a God that designs along rational and universal principles. These principles were available for all people to discover, allowed people to pursue their own aims fruitfully in this life, not the next
, and to perfect themselves with their own rational powers.
Newton saw God as the master creator whose existence could not be denied in the face of the grandeur of all creation. His spokesman, Clarke, rejected Leibniz' theodicy
which cleared God from the responsibility for l'origine du mal
by making God removed from participation in his creation, since as Clarke pointed out, such a deity would be a king in name only, and but one step away from atheism. But the unforeseen theological
consequence of the success of Newton's system over the next century was to reinforce the deist
position advocated by Leibniz.
The understanding of the world was now brought down to the level of simple human reason, and humans, as Odo Marquard argued, became responsible for the correction and elimination of evil.
Views of the end of the worldIn a manuscript he wrote in 1704 in which he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible, he estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said, "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."
philosophers chose a short history of scientific predecessors — Galileo, Boyle, and Newton principally — as the guides and guarantors of their applications of the singular concept of Nature
and Natural Law
to every physical and social field of the day. In this respect, the lessons of history and the social structures built upon it could be discarded.
It was Newton's conception of the Universe based upon Natural and rationally understandable laws that became one of the seeds for Enlightenment ideology. Locke and Voltaire
applied concepts of Natural Law to political systems advocating intrinsic rights; the physiocrats and Adam Smith
applied Natural conceptions of psychology
and self-interest to economic systems; and sociologists
criticised the current social order
for trying to fit history into Natural models of progress
. Monboddo and Samuel Clarke
resisted elements of Newton's work, but eventually rationalised it to conform with their strong religious views of nature.
CounterfeitersAs warden of the Royal Mint
, Newton estimated that 20 percent of the coins taken in during The Great Recoinage of 1696
. Counterfeiting was high treason
, punishable by the felon's being hanged, drawn and quartered
. Despite this, convicting the most flagrant criminals could be extremely difficult. However, Newton proved to be equal to the task. Disguised as a habitué of bars and taverns, he gathered much of that evidence himself. For all the barriers placed to prosecution, and separating the branches of government, English law
still had ancient and formidable customs of authority. Newton had himself made a justice of the peace
in all the home counties. Then he conducted more than 100 cross-examinations of witnesses, informers, and suspects between June 1698 and Christmas 1699. Newton successfully prosecuted 28 coiners.
One of Newton's cases as the King's attorney was against William Chaloner
. Chaloner's schemes included setting up phony conspiracies of Catholics and then turning in the hapless conspirators whom he had entrapped. Chaloner made himself rich enough to posture as a gentleman. Petitioning Parliament, Chaloner accused the Mint of providing tools to counterfeiters (a charge also made by others). He proposed that he be allowed to inspect the Mint's processes in order to improve them. He petitioned Parliament to adopt his plans for a coinage that could not be counterfeited, while at the same time striking false coins. Newton put Chaloner on trial for counterfeiting and had him sent to Newgate Prison in September 1697. But Chaloner had friends in high places, who helped him secure an acquittal and his release. Newton put him on trial a second time with conclusive evidence. Chaloner was convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered on 23 March 1699 at Tyburn gallows
Laws of motionThe famous three laws of motion (stated in modernised form):
Newton's First Law (also known as the Law of Inertia
) states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and that an object in uniform motion tends to stay in uniform motion unless acted upon by a net external force. The meaning of this law is the existence of reference frames (called inertial frames) where objects not acted upon by forces move in uniform motion (in particular, they may be at rest).
Newton's Second Law states that an applied force, , on an object equals the rate of change of its momentum, , with time. Mathematically, this is expressed as
If applied to an object with constant mass (dm/dt = 0), the first term vanishes, and by substitution using the definition of acceleration
, the equation can be written in the iconic form
The first and second laws represent a break with the physics of Aristotle
, in which it was believed that a force was necessary in order to maintain motion. They state that a force is only needed in order to change an object's state of motion. The SI unit of force is the newton, named in Newton's honour.
Newton's Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This means that any force exerted onto an object has a counterpart force that is exerted in the opposite direction back onto the first object. A common example is of two ice skaters pushing against each other and sliding apart in opposite directions. Another example is the recoil
of a firearm
, in which the force propelling the bullet
is exerted equally back onto the gun and is felt by the shooter. Since the objects in question do not necessarily have the same mass, the resulting acceleration of the two objects can be different (as in the case of firearm recoil).
Unlike Aristotle's, Newton's physics is meant to be universal. For example, the second law applies both to a planet and to a falling stone.
The vector nature of the second law addresses the geometrical relationship between the direction of the force and the manner in which the object's momentum changes. Before Newton, it had typically been assumed that a planet orbiting the sun would need a forward force to keep it moving. Newton showed instead that all that was needed was an inward attraction from the sun. Even many decades after the publication of the Principia, this counterintuitive idea was not universally accepted, and many scientists preferred Descartes' theory of vortices.
Apple incidentNewton himself often told the story that he was inspired to formulate his theory of gravitation by watching the fall of an apple from a tree. Although it has been said that the apple story is a myth and that he did not arrive at his theory of gravity in any single moment, acquaintances of Newton (such as William Stukeley
, whose manuscript account, published in 1752, has been made available by the Royal Society) do in fact confirm the incident, though not the cartoon version that the apple actually hit Newton's head. Stukeley recorded in his Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's Life a conversation with Newton in Kensington on 15 April 1726:
... We went into the garden, & drank thea under the shade of some appletrees, only he, & myself. amidst other discourse, he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. "why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground," thought he to him self: occasion'd by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a comtemplative mood: "why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earths centre? assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in matter. & the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earths center, not in any side of the earth. therefore dos this apple fall perpendicularly, or toward the center. if matter thus draws matter; it must be in proportion of its quantity. therefore the apple draws the earth, as well as the earth draws the apple."
John Conduitt, Newton's assistant at the Royal Mint and husband of Newton's niece, also described the event when he wrote about Newton's life:
In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend much further than was usually thought. Why not as high as the Moon said he to himself & if so, that must influence her motion & perhaps retain her in her orbit, whereupon he fell a calculating what would be the effect of that supposition.
In similar terms, Voltaire
wrote in his Essay on Epic Poetry (1727), "Sir Isaac Newton walking in his gardens, had the first thought of his system of gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree."
It is known from his notebooks that Newton was grappling in the late 1660s with the idea that terrestrial gravity extends, in an inverse-square proportion, to the Moon; however it took him two decades to develop the full-fledged theory. The question was not whether gravity existed, but whether it extended so far from Earth that it could also be the force holding the moon to its orbit. Newton showed that if the force decreased as the inverse square of the distance, one could indeed calculate the Moon's orbital period, and get good agreement. He guessed the same force was responsible for other orbital motions, and hence named it "universal gravitation".
Various trees are claimed to be "the" apple tree which Newton describes. The King's School, Grantham, claims that the tree was purchased by the school, uprooted and transported to the headmaster's garden some years later. The staff of the [now] National Trust
-owned Woolsthorpe Manor dispute this, and claim that a tree present in their gardens is the one described by Newton. A descendant of the original tree can be seen growing outside the main gate of Trinity College, Cambridge, below the room Newton lived in when he studied there. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale can supply grafts from their tree, which appears identical to Flower of Kent
, a coarse-fleshed cooking variety.
- Method of FluxionsMethod of FluxionsMethod of Fluxions is a book by Isaac Newton. The book was completed in 1671, and published in 1736. Fluxions is Newton's term for differential calculus...
- Of Natures Obvious Laws & Processes in Vegetation (unpublished, c. 1671–75)
- De motu corporum in gyrumDe motu corporum in gyrumDe motu corporum in gyrum is the title of a manuscript by Isaac Newton sent to Edmond Halley in November 1684...
- Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687)
- OpticksOpticksOpticks is a book written by English physicist Isaac Newton that was released to the public in 1704. It is about optics and the refraction of light, and is considered one of the great works of science in history...
- Reports as Master of the Mint (1701–25)
- Arithmetica UniversalisArithmetica Universalis100px|thumb|Title page of the Arithmetica, published 1707100px|thumb|The English translation by Raphson was published in 1720Arithmetica Universalis is a mathematics text by Isaac Newton. Written in Latin, it was edited and published by William Whiston, Newton's successor as Lucasian Professor of...
- The System of the World, Optical Lectures, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms, (Amended)The Chronology of Ancient KingdomsThe Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms is an approximately 87,000-word composition written by Sir Isaac Newton, first published posthumously in 1728 in limited supply, but since republished in mass paperback format...
and De mundi systemate (published posthumously in 1728)
- Observations on Daniel and The Apocalypse of St. John (1733)
- An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of ScriptureAn Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of ScriptureAn Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture is a dissertation by the English mathematician and scholar Sir Isaac Newton. First published in 1754, 27 years after his death, it claimed to review all the textual evidence available from ancient sources on two disputed Bible passages: ...
- Newton familyNewton family-Early Newtons:The Newtons were a family from Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire. The most recognised member of the Newton family is Sir Isaac Newton, son of Hannah Ayscough and Isaac Newton Sr., the elder...
- De Motu (Berkeley's essay)De Motu (Berkeley's essay)De Motu is an essay written by George Berkeley and published in 1721. Its full title is De Motu or The Principle and Nature of Motion and the Cause of the Communication of Motions. The essay was unsuccessfully submitted for a prize that had been offered by the Royal Academy of Sciences at...
- Elements of the Philosophy of NewtonElements of the Philosophy of NewtonElements of the Philosophy of Newton is a book written by the philosopher Voltaire in 1738 that helped to popularize the theories and thought of Isaac Newton...
- Finite difference: Newton series
- Gauss–Newton algorithm
- History of calculusHistory of calculusCalculus, historically known as infinitesimal calculus, is a mathematical discipline focused on limits, functions, derivatives, integrals, and infinite series. Ideas leading up to the notions of function, derivative, and integral were developed throughout the 17th century, but the decisive step was...
- Ismaël BullialdusIsmaël BullialdusIsmaël Bullialdus was a French astronomer.Bullialdus was born Ismaël Boulliau in Loudun, Vienne, France, the first surviving son to Calvinists Susanna Motet and Ismaël Boulliau, a notary by profession and amateur astronomer. At age twenty-one he converted to Catholicism, and by twenty-six was...
- Leibniz–Newton calculus controversy
- List of multiple discoveries: 17th century
- Newton discNewton discA Newton disc is a disc with segments in rainbow colours. When the disc is rotated, the colors fade to white; In this way Isaac Newton demonstrated that white light is a combination of the seven different colours found in a rainbow. A Newton Disc can be created by painting a disc with the seven...
- Newton fractal
- Newton polygonNewton polygonIn mathematics, the Newton polygon is a tool for understanding the behaviour of polynomials over local fields.In the original case, the local field of interest was the field of formal Laurent series in the indeterminate X, i.e. the field of fractions of the formal power series ringover K, where K...
- Newton polynomialNewton polynomialIn the mathematical field of numerical analysis, a Newton polynomial, named after its inventor Isaac Newton, is the interpolation polynomial for a given set of data points in the Newton form...
- Newton (unit)
- Newton's cannonballNewton's cannonballNewton's cannonball was a thought experiment Isaac Newton used to hypothesize that the force of gravity was universal, and it was the key force for planetary motion...
- Newton's cradleNewton's cradleNewton's cradle, named after Sir Isaac Newton, is a device that demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy via a series of swinging spheres. When one on the end is lifted and released, the resulting force travels through the line and pushes the last one upward...
- Newton's inequalitiesNewton's inequalitiesIn mathematics, the Newton inequalities are named after Isaac Newton. Suppose a1, a2, ..., an are real numbers and let \sigma_k denote the kth elementary symmetric function in a1, a2, ..., an...
- Newton's notation
- Newton's reflectorNewton's ReflectorThe first reflecting telescope built by Sir Isaac Newton in 1668 is a landmark in the history of telescopes, being the first known successful reflecting telescope. It was the prototype for a design that later came to be called a newtonian telescope....
- Newton's theorem of revolving orbitsNewton's theorem of revolving orbitsIn classical mechanics, Newton's theorem of revolving orbits identifies the type of central force needed to multiply the angular speed of a particle by a factor k without affecting its radial motion . Newton applied his theorem to understanding the overall rotation of orbits that is observed for...
- Newton's theorem about ovalsNewton's theorem about ovalsIn mathematics, Newton's theorem about ovals states that the area cut off by a secant of a smooth convex oval is not an algebraic function of the secant....
- Newton–Cotes formulas
- Newton–Euler equations
- NewtonianismNewtonianismNewtonianism is a doctrine that involves following the principles and using the methods of natural philosopher Isaac Newton. While Newton's influential contributions were primarily in physics and mathematics, his broad conception of the universe as being governed by rational and understandable laws...
- Schrödinger–Newton equations
Footnotes and references
- Bardi, Jason Socrates. The Calculus Wars: Newton, Leibniz, and the Greatest Mathematical Clash of All Time. 2006. 277 pp. excerpt and text search.
- Berlinski, David. Newton's Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World. (2000). 256 pp. excerpt and text search ISBN 0-684-84392-7
- Buchwald, Jed Z. and Cohen, I. Bernard, eds. Isaac Newton's Natural Philosophy. MIT PressMIT PressThe MIT Press is a university press affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts .-History:...
, 2001. 354 pp. excerpt and text search See this site for excerpt and text search.
- Cohen, I. Bernard and Smith, George E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Newton. (2002). 500 pp. focuses on philosophical issues only; excerpt and text search; complete edition online – Preface by Albert Einstein. Reprinted by Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York (1972).
- Hawking, StephenStephen HawkingStephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity...
, ed. On the Shoulders of Giants. ISBN 0-7624-1348-4 Places selections from Newton's Principia in the context of selected writings by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Einstein Keynes took a close interest in Newton and owned many of Newton's private papers.
- Newton, Isaac. Papers and Letters in Natural Philosophy, edited by I. Bernard CohenI. Bernard CohenI. Bernard Cohen was the Victor S. Thomas Professor of the history of science at Harvard University and the author of many books on the history of science and, in particular, Isaac Newton....
. Harvard University PressHarvard University PressHarvard University Press is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. Its current director is William P...
, 1958,1978. ISBN 0-674-46853-8.
- Newton, Isaac (1642–1727). The Principia: a new Translation, Guide by I. Bernard Cohen ISBN 0-520-08817-4 University of California (1999)
- Shapley, Harlow, S. Rapport, and H. Wright. A Treasury of Science; "Newtonia" pp. 147–9; "Discoveries" pp. 150–4. Harper & Bros., New York, (1946). The 100 Greatest Minds of all Time | location = Sydney | publisher=The Book Company | year = 1996}} (edited by A. H. White; originally published in 1752)
- Dobbs, Betty Jo Tetter. The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton's Thought. (1991), links the alchemy to Arianism
- Force, James E., and Richard H. Popkin, eds. Newton and Religion: Context, Nature, and Influence. (1999), 342pp . Pp. xvii + 325. 13 papers by scholars using newly opened manuscripts
- Ramati, Ayval. "The Hidden Truth of Creation: Newton's Method of Fluxions" British Journal for the History of Science 34: 417–438. in JSTOR, argues that his calculus had a theological basis
- Snobelen, Stephen "'God of Gods, and Lord of Lords': The Theology of Isaac Newton's General Scholium to the Principia," Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol. 16, (2001), pp. 169–208 in JSTOR
- Wiles, Maurice. Archetypal Heresy. Arianism through the Centuries. (1996) 214pp, with chapter 4 on 18th century England; pp 77–93 on Newton excerpt and text search,
- Newton, Isaac. The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. University of California PressUniversity of California PressUniversity of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. It was founded in 1893 to publish books and papers for the faculty of the University of California, established 25 years earlier in 1868...
, (1999). 974 pp.
- Brackenridge, J. Bruce. The Key to Newton's Dynamics: The Kepler Problem and the Principia: Containing an English Translation of Sections 1, 2, and 3 of Book One from the First (1687) Edition of Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. University of California Press, 1996. 299 pp.
- Newton, Isaac. The Optical Papers of Isaac Newton. Vol. 1: The Optical Lectures, 1670–1672. Cambridge U. Press, 1984. 627 pp.
- Newton, Isaac. Opticks (4th ed. 1730) online edition
- Newton, I. (1952). Opticks, or A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections & Colours of Light. New York: Dover Publications.
- Newton, I. Sir Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and His System of the World, tr. A. Motte, rev. Florian CajoriFlorian CajoriFlorian Cajori was one of the most celebrated historians of mathematics in his day.- Biography :...
. Berkeley: University of California Press. (1934). – 8 volumes
- Newton, Isaac. The correspondence of Isaac Newton, ed. H. W. Turnbull and others, 7 vols. (1959–77)
- Newton's Philosophy of Nature: Selections from His Writings edited by H. S. Thayer, (1953), online edition
- Isaac Newton, Sir; J Edleston; Roger CotesRoger CotesRoger Cotes FRS was an English mathematician, known for working closely with Isaac Newton by proofreading the second edition of his famous book, the Principia, before publication. He also invented the quadrature formulas known as Newton–Cotes formulas and first introduced what is known today as...
, Correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Cotes, including letters of other eminent men, London, John W. Parker, West Strand; Cambridge, John Deighton, 1850. – Google Books
- Maclaurin, C. (1748). An Account of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophical Discoveries, in Four Books. London: A. Millar and J. Nourse.
- Newton, I. (1958). Isaac Newton's Papers and Letters on Natural Philosophy and Related Documents, eds. I. B. Cohen and R. E. Schofield. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Newton, I. (1962). The Unpublished Scientific Papers of Isaac Newton: A Selection from the Portsmouth Collection in the University Library, Cambridge, ed. A. R. Hall and M. B. Hall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Newton, I. (1975). Isaac Newton's 'Theory of the Moon's Motion' (1702). London: Dawson.
- ScienceWorld biography by Eric Weisstein
- Dictionary of Scientific Biography
- The Newton Project
- The Newton Project – Canada
- Rebuttal of Newton's astrology (via archive.org)
- Newton's Religious Views Reconsidered
- Newton's Royal Mint Reports
- Newton's Dark Secrets NOVANOVA (TV series)Nova is a popular science television series from the U.S. produced by WGBH Boston. It can be seen on the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States, and in more than 100 other countries...
- from The Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyStanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyThe Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a freely-accessible online encyclopedia of philosophy maintained by Stanford University. Each entry is written and maintained by an expert in the field, including professors from over 65 academic institutions worldwide...
- Isaac Newton, by George Smith
- Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, by George Smith
- Newton's Philosophy, by Andrew Janiak
- Newton's views on space, time, and motion, by Robert Rynasiewicz
- Newton's Castle Educational material
- The Chymistry of Isaac Newton Research on his Alchemical writings
- FMA Live! Program for teaching Newton's laws to kids
- Newton's religious position
- The "General Scholium" to Newton's Principia
- Kandaswamy, Anand M. The Newton/Leibniz Conflict in Context
- Newton's First ODE – A study by on how Newton approximated the solutions of a first-order ODE using infinite series
- The Mind of Isaac Newton Images, audio, animations and interactive segments
- Enlightening Science Videos on Newton's biography, optics, physics, reception, and on his views on science and religion
- Newton biography (University of St Andrews)
Writings by him
- Newton's works – full texts, at the Newton Project
- Newton's Principia – read and search
- Descartes, Space, and Body and A New Theory of Light and Colour, modernised readable versions by Jonathan Bennett
- Opticks, or a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light, full text on archive.org