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NEWTON AND WOLFF: THE LEIBNIZIAN REACTION TO THE PRINCIPIA, 1716–1763

Authors


  • Marius Stan is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Boston College. He earned his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 2009, with a dissertation on Kant's philosophy of physics, and spent three years (2009–12) as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at California Institute of Technology. His recent publications and current research focus on the foundations of classical mechanics, the reception of Newton and Leibniz during the Enlightenment, and Kant's natural philosophy.

abstract

Newton rested his theory of mechanics on distinct metaphysical and epistemological foundations. After Leibniz's death in 1716, the Principia ran into sharp philosophical opposition from Christian Wolff and his disciples, who sought to subvert Newton's foundations or replace them with Leibnizian ideas. In what follows, I chronicle some of the Wolffians' reactions to Newton's notion of absolute space, his dynamical laws of motion, and his general theory of gravitation. I also touch on arguments advanced by Newton's Continental followers, such as Leonhard Euler, who made novel attempts to defend his mechanical foundations against the pro-Leibnizian attack. This examination grants us deeper insight into the fate of Newton's mechanics on the Continent during the early eighteenth century and, more specifically, sheds needed light on the conflicts and tensions that characterized the reception of Newton's philosophy of mechanics among the Leibnizians.

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