Newton's masterful achievement was constructed under the influence of much previous philosophical discussion and controversy that went beyond the limits of scientific debate narrowly construed. Much that Newton says in the Principia also ranges beyond the confines of experimental, or even theoretical, science and passes into the realm of what we usually think of as philosophy. Newton's work gave rise, possibly more than any other work of science past or future, excepting just possibly the work of Darwin and Einstein, to vigorous philosophical as well as scientific discussion. Let us look at some of the philosophical issues behind, within and ensuing from Newton's work.
It is convenient to group the discussions into three broad categories. First, there is the “metaphysical” debate over the nature of space, time and motion. Next there is the debate over what can be properly construed as a scientific explanation of some phenomenon. Lastly, there is the controversy over what the appropriate rules are by which scientific hypotheses are to be credited with having reasonable warrant for our belief. We will discuss these three broad topics in turn.
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