Law and order: God and the sovereignty of Newtonian methodology in Petrus van Musschenbroek’s work

Pieter Present

Onderzoeksoutput: Unpublished paper


In this paper, I discuss Petrus van Musschenbroek’s (1692-1761) defence of Newton’s experimental philosophy, in relation to his views on natural laws and their dependence on the power and will of God. At the time van Musschenbroek started his academic career, several universities in the Dutch Republic had been plagued by intellectual and institutional struggles between Aristotelians and Cartesians, sometimes even resulting in physical violence (Ruestow 1973, 34-88). In contrast to these philosophies, van Musschenbroek presents experimental philosophy as a study “free from all disputations and controversies [ab omni disputatione & controversia liber[a]]” (van Musschenbroek 1723, 42). I show how for van Musschenbroek, the harmony in experimental philosophy is premised on the order in nature. Natural phenomena are governed by universal and unchanging laws instituted by God. Therefore, as a diligent study of natural phenomena, experimental philosophy cannot but produce agreement (van Musschenbroek 1723, 43-4). Divine law guarantees order in science. I then discuss the role of van Musschenbroek’s voluntarism in his defence of the method of experimental philosophy. The order in the world is based on a free and arbitrary act of will by God, whose will and power are beyond our comprehension (van Musschenbroek 1723, 9). The sovereign and free will of God is used to ban a priori reasoning from philosophy and guarantee the sovereignty of the method of experimental philosophy. I conclude by situating van Musschenbroek’s insistence on the stabilising nature of Newtonian experimental philosophy, and his invocation of natural law and God’s sovereignty in the broader religious and political landscape of the Dutch Republic. Bibliography Ruestow, Edward G. 1973. Physics at Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Leiden: Philosophy and the New Science in the University. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. van Musschenbroek, Petrus. 1723. Oratio de Certa Methodo Philosophiae Experimentalis. Utrecht: Guilielmum Vande Water.
Originele taal-2English
StatusUnpublished - 2016
Evenement7th European Society for the History of Scienc - Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Duur: 22 sep 201624 sep 2016


Conference7th European Society for the History of Scienc
Land/RegioCzech Republic
Internet adres


  • Van Musschenbroek, Petrus
  • Newtonianism
  • Cartesianism
  • law of nature


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