The changing relationship between metaphysics, physics and mathematics. From Newton to Lagrange (1687-1788)

Project Details


This project aims to show that the disentanglement of metaphysics and physics and the corresponding mathematization of physics took much longer, and was much more complex, than is commonly assumed. Reconsidering the changing relationship between metaphysics, physics and mathematics in the wake of Newton's Principia (1687-1788), the project thus challenges the view that the so-called Scientific Revolution immediately gave birth in a straightforward manner to physics as we know it today. During the seventeenth century metaphysical and scientific questions were often intertwined inseparably, and it was only during the eighteenth century that the strong conviction grew that the pursuit of physics must be separated from metaphysical questions. This decline of metaphysics was, as the story goes, inversely proportional to the increased belief in the power of mathematics to describe reality. However, in the seventeenth century the geometrical approach of Galileo, Huygens or Newton hardly looked anything like mathematical physics today. Only during the eighteenth century, in virtue of the development of the calculus, did mathematical physics gain its more formal character. My project aims to examine this evolution from both a historical and philosophical point of view. In particular, it will reflect about some of the methodological, epistemological and ontological assumptions which underlie the enormous theoretical and practical success of modern physics.
Effective start/end date1/10/1430/09/18


  • Metaphysics
  • physics
  • Mathematics
  • Philosophy

Flemish discipline codes

  • Metaphysics