PhilSci Archive

Mathematical Models in Newton’s Principia: A New View of the “Newtonian Style”

Ducheyne, Steffen (2005) Mathematical Models in Newton’s Principia: A New View of the “Newtonian Style”. [Preprint]


Download (385kB)


In this essay I argue against Bernard I. Cohen’s influential account of Newton’s methodology in the Principia: the “Newtonian Style”. The crux of Cohen’s account is the successive adaptation of “mental constructs” through comparisons with nature. In Cohen’s view there is a direct dynamics between the mental constructs and physical systems. I argue that his account is essentially hypothetical-deductive which is at odds with Newton’s rejection of the hypothetical-deductive method. An adequate account of Newton’s methodology needs to show how Newton’s method proceeds different from the hypotheticaldeductive method. In the constructive part I argue for my own account which is model-based: it focuses on how Newton constructed his models in Book I of the Principia. I will show that Newton understood Book I as an exercise in determining the mathematical consequences of certain force functions. The growing complexity of Newton’s models is a result of exploring increasingly complex force functions (intra-theoretical dynamics) rather than a successive comparison with nature (extra-theoretical dynamics). Nature did not enter the scene here. This intra-theoretical dynamics is related to the “autonomy of the models”.

Export/Citation: EndNote | BibTeX | Dublin Core | ASCII/Text Citation (Chicago) | HTML Citation | OpenURL
Social Networking:
Share |

Item Type: Preprint
Ducheyne, Steffen
Additional Information: This version will appear in International Studies in the Philosophy of Science.
Keywords: Isaac Newton; Principia; (hypothetical-deductive) methodology; I. Bernard Cohen; Newtonian Style; models; models as mediators
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Classical Physics
General Issues > Structure of Theories
General Issues > Models and Idealization
General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Theory/Observation
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Depositing User: Steffen Ducheyne
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2005
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 15:13
Item ID: 2155

Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Monthly Downloads for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item