Isaac Newton Develops His Natural Philosophical Methodology: Interactions Between the 'regulae philosophandi' and the Queries

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. Confusions triggered criticism, forcing Newton to reflect and elaborate more thoroughly on the natural philosophical methodology contained in the 'regulae'. The abundance of manuscript material testifies of Newton’s caution in correctly formulating these issues. To this day, both the content and the context out of which the 'regulae' arose are still heavily debated amongst historians and philosophers. The reasons for their opaqueness are the fact that they were only published in Latin by Newton, they contain natural philosophical methodology that Newton only sporadically made public, and they are notoriously short and dense. Although the methodological parts of the Queries from Opticks or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colors of Light fare a little better in these respects, as they are longer and published in Latin and English, changes in them were also abundant, causing debates that continue up until this day.
Researchers have often taken two distinct approaches to get to grips with 'regulae' and the Queries: either they combine the published versions of both sections to construct one coherent reading of Newton’s methodology, or they have restricted themselves to the drafts written for one of these sections and have avoided constructing a common editorial history. Rarely do researchers combine the two approaches to give a fuller account of the development of Newton’s methodological thinking spanning both sections and taking into account their respective drafts and published versions. This is where my research comes in. Recent publications on both the 'regulae' and the Queries enable me to determine the relationship between these two iconic sections more accurately.
In my paper I first assess the nature of the affinities between the two sections 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. Secondly, once the nature of the relationship between the 'regulae' and the Queries is assessed, I clarify the notoriously opaque passages and their respective drafts using my newly crafted editorial history. I aim to show that the
'regulae' and the Queries are more than merely thematically affiliated and—thus—that a common editorial history can help assess the different changes in them.
Considering that these two sections comprise most of his explicit methodological statements, giving a chronological account of them allows me to trace the development of Newton’s methodological thinking in a key phase of his life. In particular, this research can help us make sense of the tumultuous time in Newton’s intellectual life when he was forced to elaborate on matters he famously tried to avoid in writing. Furthermore, it will help us appreciate the different contributing factors that helped shape many of Newton’s most illustrious claims.
Period16 Oct 2022
Event titleBucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy 9th Edition
Event typeConference
LocationBucharest, Romania
Degree of RecognitionInternational