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Newton and Empiricism$
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Zvi Biener and Eric Schliesser

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199337095

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199337095.001.0001

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Constructing Natural Historical Facts

Constructing Natural Historical Facts

Baconian Natural History in Newton’s First Paper on Light and Colors

(p.39) 2 Constructing Natural Historical Facts
Newton and Empiricism

Dana Jalobeanu

Oxford University Press

Newton’s first published paper on light and colors begins with a Baconian ’historical narration’ about the context, origin, methodology, and development of the experimentum crucis. This chapter explores elements of Bacon’s method of natural history at play in Newton’s paper. The chapter shows that the construction of Newton’s paper follows Baconian rules for the writing of natural history, while his development of experiments and construction of facts have features of the Baconian experientia literata. This involves a historical reconstruction and philosophical interpretation of the methodology and theoretical structure of Bacon’s Latin natural histories, particularly Historia densi et rari, Historia vitae et mortis, and Sylva sylvarum. The chapter then explores the debate around Newton’s theory of light and colors, showing ways in which Newton’s opponents read his first paper as an exercise of Baconian natural history.

Keywords:   Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, experimentum crucis, natural history, experiment, experientia literata

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