Skeptical and Natural Philosophy

Francis Bacon and the Scientific Revolution

How was Newton’s system received?

Newton’s (1642–1727) laws were accepted with intellectual awe, bordering on reverence. Part of this reaction was gratitude for the comprehensive way in which he plausibly united both the atomic theory and the results of the Copernican revolution. Newton was famous for his claim of not going beyond the evidence. His motto was Hypotheses non fingo, or “I frame no hypotheses.”

However, this was not literally true, given his scholium that assumed absolute space and time, and his postulation of force as “action at a distance.” He also assumed that God existed. But Newton’s stance of empiricism—he thought, for example, that with sufficiently powerful microscopes it would be possible to see atoms someday—carried the day on the issue of whether he really was an empiricist.

Newton’s work was almost immediately translated into European languages and became the new view of the universe. There were also popularized versions of his ideas, and by the early eighteenth century idealized portraits of him were in wide circulation. Francesco Algarrotti published Newton for the Ladies in 1737, which was reprinted in many editions. (Because girls did not receive the same education as boys, it was widely believed that scientific knowledge had to be simplified and expressed in more “gentle” language for women.)


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