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Newton: From Certainty to Probability?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Abstract

Newton’s earliest publications contained scandalous epistemological claims: not only did he aim for certainty; he also claimed success. Some commentators argue that Newton ultimately gave up claims of certainty in favor of a high degree of probability. I argue that no such shift occurred. I examine the evidence of a probabilistic shift: a passage from query 23/31 of the Opticks and rule 4 of the Principia. Neither passage supports a probabilistic approach to natural philosophy. The aim of certainty, then, was an enduring feature of Newton’s methodology.

Type
Evidence and Inference
Copyright
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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Footnotes

For valuable comments on previous versions of this article I would like to thank Adrian Currie, Niccolò Guicciardini, Craig Fox, and Alan Shapiro. The article also benefited from helpful discussions at a 2015 workshop titled “Natural History, Mathematics, and Metaphysics in the Seventeenth Century” and held at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest.

References

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