Authors: Sir Isaac Newton

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English mathematician, physicist, and critic

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1687 (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1729; best known as the Principia, 1848)

Opticks, 1704

Arithmetica Universalis, 1707 (Universal Arithmetick, 1720)

Analysis per Quantitatum Series, Fluxiones, ad Differentias: Cum Enumeratione Linearum Tertii Ordinis, 1711 (includes De Analysi per Aquationes Infinitas; Fragmenta Epistolarum; De Quadratura Curvarum; Enumeratio Linearum Tertii Ordinis; and Methodus Differentialis)

The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, 1728

Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, 1733

The Method of Fluxions and Infinite Series, 1736

Biography

Isaac Newton, the son of a Lincolnshire farmer who died before the birth of his son, showed early signs of scientific interests; as a child he made drawings of new types of windmills and of a self-propelled carriage. In 1661 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he came under the influence of Isaac Barrow, a famous professor of Greek and mathematics. During these years Newton studied Kepler’s work on optics and Descartes’s principles of geometry. During most of 1665 and 1666 he stayed away from the university because of the plague, instead studying at his family home in Lincolnshire. There he developed the binomial theorem, invented differential and integral calculus (although some authorities claim that most of the credit for the invention of the calculus should go to Barrow), computed the area of hyperbola, and began his speculations about the nature of gravity. He developed most of these speculations and published them in his first and most famous work, Principia, in 1687. When Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667, he was appointed a Fellow of Trinity College. In 1669 he began lecturing on optics and began experiments that enabled him to develop the reflecting telescope. He also, at this time, developed his theory on the transmission of light. He published this work in his Opticks in 1704.{$I[AN]9810000395}{$I[A]Newton, Sir Isaac}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Newton, Sir Isaac}{$I[tim]1643;Newton, Sir Isaac}

Isaac Newton

(Library of Congress)

Newton was appointed Lucasian professor in 1669, and he spent most of his subsequent life at Cambridge, lecturing, working on his experiments, formulating his laws and theories, and writing. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1672; thereafter, all his work was presented first in the form of papers read to the society before publishing. His scientific life was enlivened by several long controversies. Robert Hooke, a fellow English scientist, disputed Newton’s theory of light in a long argument that made light one of the principal topics for discussion in the scientific world of the time. Newton carried on a long correspondence with the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, as well as with John Bernoulli, both of whom claimed that Leibniz had discovered the calculus. Newton also differed strongly with the British Astronomer-Royal, John Flamsteed, on astronomy and lunar theory.

Despite these controversies Newton was recognized as the foremost scientist of his time throughout the Western world. His eminence brought him other honors and responsibilities, some of which, he felt, merely took time away from his scientific studies. He was named a delegate to resist the encroachment of the Crown on Cambridge University by James II in 1687. As a result of his work in limiting royal interference in university affairs, Newton was elected to Parliament in 1689, after the abdication of James II, as the representative from Cambridge. He soon resigned, but was elected again in 1701. He was Warden of the Royal Mint in 1699. In 1703 he became president of the Royal Society, and in 1705 he was knighted by Queen Anne.

Although his principal fame rests on his scientific work, Newton also kept voluminous notes on philosophical alchemy and on theology; almost all of these remained unpublished during his lifetime. Although Newton’s private theological speculations tended toward Arianism, his success as a scientist helped pave the way for the rationalistic view of God espoused by the Enlightenment.

BibliographyBerlinski, David. Newton’s Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World. New York: Free Press, 2000.Chappell, Vere, ed. Seventeenth-Century Natural Scientists. Vol. 7 in Essays on Early Modern Philosophers. New York: Garland, 1992. Part of a twelve-volume set of scholarly essays on seventeenth century philosophers in Europe. Contains six articles on Newton.Christianson, Gale E. In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and His Times. New York: Free Press, 1984. This very readable biography places Newton’s life in the context of the scientific revolution.Christianson, Gale E. Isaac Newton. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. At only 144 pages, this biography is brief but interesting study of Newton’s life. Includes bibliography and index.Cohen, I. Bernard, and George E. Smith, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Newton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Focuses on Newton’s philosophical influence on the Enlightenment and the modern world.De Gandt, Francois. Force and Geometry in Newton’s “Principia.” Translated by Curtis Wilson. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995. An introduction to Newton’s Principia.Dobbs, Betty Jo Teeter. The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton’s Thought. 1992. Reprint. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 1998. Dobbs argues that Newton’s primary goal was to establish a unified system that included both natural and divine principles. Special attention is given to alchemy.Gleick, James. Isaac Newton. New York: Pantheon, 2003. Gleick ventures into well-trodden territory with yet another biography of Newton, but in this biography Gleick reveals Newton’s seemingly contradictory passions for both the mysterious, such as alchemy, and that which is considered not-so-mysterious, such as rational thinking. Includes illustrations and an index.Goldish, Matt. Judaism in the Theology of Sir Isaac Newton. Boston: Kluwer, 1998. An analysis of Newton’s historical theology and how Newton’s interest in Jewish studies greatly impacted all areas of his theology.Hall, A. Rupert. Isaac Newton: Eighteenth Century Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. A compilation of five early eighteenth century biographies of Newton. Each biography is accompanied by a commentary. A bibliography of Newton’s works is included.Koyre, Alexandre. Newtonian Studies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965. A collection of philosophical and historical essays on Newton.Manuel, Frank E. A Portrait of Isaac Newton. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968. This work examines Newton’s life and work in the context of Newton’s papers and contemporary thinking about the methods and development of science.Wallis, Peter, and Ruth Wallis. Newton and Newtonia, 1672-1975. Folkestone, England: Dawson, 1977. An exhaustive bibliography of works by and about Newton.Westfall, Richard S. The Life of Isaac Newton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A condensed version of Never at Rest.Westfall, Richard S. Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. This biography presents Newton’s scientific discoveries in the context of his life. Includes a valuable bibliographical essay and an appendix. More than nine hundred pages.
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