Cotes’ Queries: Newton’s Empiricism and Conceptions of Matter

In Eric Schliesser & Andrew Janiak (eds.), Interpreting Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 105-137 (2012)
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We argue that a conflict between two conceptions of “quantity of matter” employed in a corollary to proposition 6 of Book III of the Principia illustrates a deeper conflict between Newton’s view of the nature of extended bodies and the concept of mass appropriate for the theoretical framework of the Principia. We trace Newton’s failure to recognize the conflict to the fact that he allowed for the justification of natural philosophical claims by two types of a posteriori, empiricist methodologies. Newton's thoughts on these methodologies demonstrate that his natural philosophy continued to develop after the publication of the first edition of Principia and that De Grav should be understood as an early, and not necessarily representative, text.

Author Profiles

Zvi Biener
University of Cincinnati
Chris Smeenk
University of Western Ontario


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