The works of Isaac Newton, and especially his Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica, turned “mathematics” into one of the buzzwords of 18th century intellectual culture. Philosophers were forced to deal with mathematics on several levels and Newton’s mathematical methodology was seen as a salutary example of scientific investigation by his followers. Because of this, much can be learned about mathematics and worldviews by tracing Newton’s reputation through the century. This talk addresses three of the more prominent uses of Newton’s name throughout the 18th century, namely: (1) to refer to specific forms of scientific inquiry; (2) to attract audiences for the commercialization of natural knowledge; and (3) to denote various metaphysical views of nature that were inspired by Newton’s Principia.
Jip van Besouw is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where he received his PhD in Philosophy in 2017. He works on the history of 17th and 18th century natural philosophy. He has specific interests in the development of experimental and mathematical scientific practices at the time, as well as in the epistemological and methodological discourses surrounding those practices.