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abstract

I aim to clarify the argument for space that Newton presents in De Gravitatione (composed prior to 1687) by putting Newton's remarks into conversation with the account of geometrical knowledge found in Proclus's Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements (ca. 450). What I highlight is that both Newton and Proclus adopt an epistemic progression (or “order of knowing”) according to which geometrical knowledge necessarily precedes our knowledge of metaphysical truths concerning the ontological state of affairs. As I argue, Newton's commitment to this order of knowing clarifies the interplay of the imagination and understanding in geometrical inquiry and illuminates how geometrical knowledge of space can lead to knowledge that space depends on and is related to God. In general, appreciating the Proclean elements of Newton's argument brings added light to the significance of geometrical inquiry for his general natural philosophical program and grants us insight into the philosophical grounding for the notion of absolute space that is presented in the Principia mathematica (1687).