Title: Newton and Descartes on True Motion
By Monica Solomon (Stanford, Philosophy)
Date: Thursday March 4, 2021
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Abstract: Isaac Newton’s scholium to the definitions in the Principia (1687/1713/1726) articulates clearly distinctions pertaining to the concepts of time, space, place, and motion. A well-known example therein describes the motion of the water within a revolving bucket. Trivial as it may seem, the example has captured the imagination of philosophers ever since. Recent work in the history and philosophy of science has revealed that the example is best read contextually, as an argument against the Cartesian definition of proper motion.
In this talk I make the further argument that what is truly at stake is finding a quantitatively adequate measure of true motion. The example is not an argument for the existence of absolute space or motion, and the attack against the Cartesian framework is both more substantial and more targeted than it has been previously shown in the literature. This conclusion will then lead us to reconsider the role of the scholium: I suggest that it is a commentary to a set of fundamental physical quantities, and a “space-and-time” scholium only derivatively. Finally, I am going to develop the implications of this analysis for Newton’s methodology of science and its later reception in the eighteenth century.
About the speaker: Monica Solomon is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for the History and Philosophy of Science at Stanford University, where she is also affiliated with the Department of Philosophy. She received her PhD from University of Notre Dame and her main areas of specialization are early modern philosophy and philosophy of science. Dr. Solomon’s current research focuses on the eighteenth-century intellectual and scientific landscape, on what was lost and what was gained in the transition from natural philosophy to mathematical physics.