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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 8, 2018

Locke and the Methodology of Newton’s Principia

Patrick J. Connolly


A number of commentators have recently suggested that there is a puzzle surrounding Locke’s acceptance of Newton’s Principia. On their view, Locke understood natural history as the primary methodology for natural philosophy and this commitment was at odds with an embrace of mathematical physics. This article considers various attempts to address this puzzle and finds them wanting. It then proposes a more synoptic view of Locke’s attitude towards natural philosophy. Features of Locke’s biography show that he was deeply interested in mathematical physics long before the publication of the Principia. This interest was in line with important developments in the Royal Society. It is argued that Locke endorsed a two-stage approach to natural philosophy which was consistent with an embrace of both natural history and mathematical physics. The Principia can be understood as consistent with this approach.

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Published Online: 2018-09-08
Published in Print: 2018-09-05

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