Deciphering Isaac Newton’s ‘Regulae Philosophandi’ and the ‘Queries’: A Comparative Study

Dhondt, F. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


Ever since their inception in the first edition of the 'Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica', Isaac Newton’s 'regulae philosophandi', called 'hypotheses' in the first edition, have puzzled readers. Both their content and the context out of which they arose were and are heavily debated amongst contemporaries of Newton’s as well as present-day historians and philosophers. The reasons for the opaqueness of the 'regulae' are the fact that they were only published in Latin by Newton, that they contain methodological material that Newton only sporadically made public and that they are notoriously short and dense.
In this paper I show that the 'regulae' have thematic affinities with the 'Queries' to the 'Opticks'/'Optice'. By exploring the relationship between the methodological sections of these texts and their respective drafts, I aim to clarify the meaning of the 'regulae'. In order to accomplish this, I will first assess the nature of the affinities between the two texts by asking the following question: do the 'regulae' and the 'Queries' have a common editorial history or are they merely thematically related? If the former is the case, then we can research explicit overlaps between the two texts and/or their draft material. If the latter, then affinities between the two works are more tentative, but nonetheless valuable—as I will try to show.
Once the nature of the affinities is assessed, I use the 'Queries' and its drafts to analyse the notoriously opaque 'regulae'.
Period8 Sep 2022
Event title10th ESHS Conference Brussels 2022
Event typeConference
LocationBrussels, Belgium
Degree of RecognitionInternational