PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Newton: from certainty to probability?

Newton’s earliest publications contained scandalous epistemological claims: not only did he aim for certainty, but claimed success! Some commentators argue that Newton ultimately gave up claims of certainty in favour of a high degree of probability (e.g. Alan Shapiro and Niccolò Guicciardini). I examine the evidence of a probabilistic shift: a passage from query 23/31 of the Opticks and rule 4 of the Principia. Neither passage supports a probabilistic approach to natural philosophy. I argue, therefore, that no such shift occurred and develop an interpretation of just what Newton meant by ‘certainty’—compelled assent.

Word count: 4993

Author Information:

Kirsten Walsh    
Philosophy
University of Calgary

 

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