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Newton and Mathematical Physics in France in the Twilight of the Sun King

(p.347) Chapter 11 Coda
Before Voltaire
J.B. Shank
University of Chicago Press

This Coda closes the book by reflecting on the initial reception of Newton's Principia in France as it relates to the eruption after 1715 of the "Newton Wars," and the very different understanding of the Principia that sustained them. Stressing the contingent nature of this history, the chapter explores how French science was shaped overall by the peculiar dynamics of Newton's influence. Noting how eighteenth-century mathematicians in the United Kingdom tended to follow the Old Style mathematicians in France in their rejection of mathematical analysis, the irony of the French origin of what we now call "Newtonian mechanics" through a failure to follow Newton as literally as his English and Scottish colleagues is noted. The emergence of Newton's new identity as a mathematical natural philosopher and defender of the theory of universal gravitation after 1715 is also explored, along with the changing French understanding of the Principia and its place in French science. Pointing to The Newton Wars and the Beginning of the French Enlightenment, which picks up the story from here, the book concludes by pointing to some of the ways that Enlightenment French Newtonianism as practiced after 1730 reveal the historical traces of this earlier history.

Keywords:   Charles Babbage, The Analytical Society, Cambridge University, Phillipe Villemot, universal gravitation, attraction in empty space versus vortical mechanisms, Georges le Clerc, Comte de Buffon, Alexis-Claude Clairaut, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, Johann Bernoulli

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