Responses to Newton’s Mathematical-Experimental Paradigm in 18th-Century Philosophy

Project Details


In line with recent accounts of the impact of Newton on 18th-century science, RENEW18 aims to bring into
focus the widely divergent responses to the mathematical-experimental paradigm (henceforth: ‘MEP’)
elaborated in Newton’s Principia mathematica (1687) and Opticks (1704) on the part of 18th-century
philosophers. While we do not deny the enormous impact of the MEP, we challenge the prevailing assumption
that it effected a radical and thoroughgoing rupture within 18th-century epistemology and metaphysics.
Introducing the notion of response as a historiographical category, RENEW18 seeks to account for the wide
range of responses to the challenge posed by the MEP on the part of 18th-century philosophers, responses
that ranged from emulation and appropriation to various types of accommodation to qualified or unqualified
resistance. More specifically, RENEW18 studies the direct and indirect effects of the MEP on philosophers
who drew from Aristotelian, Cartesian, Leibnizian, and Wolffian sources. It covers the period between 1700
and 1800, treats developments in the Dutch Republic, England, France, and Germany, and foregrounds the
impact of non-canonical authors and movements on canonical authors and the other way around. RENEW18’s
inclusive and innovative historiography thus counteracts the reductive account of the impact of Newton on
18th-century philosophy that prevails in contemporary scholarship.
Short title or EU acronymRENEW18
Effective start/end date1/01/2231/12/25


  • Isaac Newton
  • 18th-century philosophy
  • epistemology
  • metaphysics
  • historiography of modern philosophy
  • Enlightenment

Flemish discipline codes

  • History of psychology
  • General philosophy of science