Assessing the alliances and conflicts that gave rise to Isaac Newton's Queries in Optice (1706)

Activiteit: Talk or presentation at a conference


One of the archetypal alliances within the history of science is constituted by Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and – what many consider – his entourage of followers and disciples. At the end of the 17th and in the beginning of the 18th century, these followers are said to have disseminated Newton’s natural philosophical view across Britain and beyond. An exemplary historical episode highlighting the presence of this alliance is the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence where Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) was endowed with the task of representing Newton’s views on such fundamental matters as space, time, motion and God. In this presentation, I take issue with the term “follower” in one specific case because it tends to obscure the accomplishments of those involved. The case I am particularly interested in, is Clarke’s involvement in and intellectual contributions to the publication of the first Latin edition of Opticks, i.e. Optice (1706). In contrast to the era of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, this era has received far less scholarly attention. After the initial publication of Opticks (1704) in English, Newton planned to publish a Latin version that was to be translated by Clarke. Additionally, Newton added seven Queries to that version concerned with subjects such as theology, methodology, chemistry etc. It is, however, unclear to what extent Clarke aided Newton in creating those Queries and not merely translated them from English to Latin as the common view suggests. Relying on draft material for the 1706 edition of Optice, I uncover some intricate passages suggesting a more thorough involvement of Clarke in the publication of Optice.
In addition, this draft material also attests to Newton’s urge to react to his adversaries in his drafts and – although in a more latent form – published work. In other words, Newton’s adversaries – the rivals of the alliance – determined his work to some extent.
Periode20 sep 2021
EvenementstitelSecond ESHS Early Career Scholars Conference: Science and its Enemies - Exploring Conflicts and Alliances in the History of Science
LocatieAthens, Greece
Mate van erkenningInternational