Pieter van Musschenbroek on laws of nature

Steffen Ducheyne, Pieter Present

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


In this article, we discuss the development of the concept of a ‘law’ (of nature) in the work of the Dutch natural philosopher and experimenter Petrus van Musschenbroek (1692–1761). Since Van Musschenbroek is commonly described as one of the first ‘Newtonians’ on the Continent in the secondary literature, we focus more specifically on its relation to Newton's views on this issue. Although he was certainly indebted to Newton for his thinking on laws (of nature), Van Musschenbroek's views can be seen to diverge from Newton's on crucial points. We show, moreover, how his thinking on laws of nature was shaped by both international and local factors. We start with a brief discussion of Newton's concept of ‘laws of nature’ in order to set the stage for Van Musschenbroek's. We then document the development of Van Musschenbroek's views on laws of nature in chronological order. We demonstrate how his thinking on laws of nature was tied to institutional, theological and scientific factors. We conclude by pointing to the broader significance of this case study for our understanding of the development of the concept ‘law of nature’ during the eighteenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-656
Number of pages20
JournalThe British Journal for the History of Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Pieter van Musschenbroek
  • law of nature


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