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Hypothesis non fingo: The Development of Isaac Newton's Literary Technology



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This thesis examines a dispute between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke during the 1670s over Newton’s “New theory about light and colour.” The controversy offers a fascinating window into the development of Newton's literary methodology for the presentation of his experimental facts. As such, I trace a transition from the genteel natural philosophy of Robert Boyle to the origins of modern scientific objectivity. While early modern science is often seen as the pursuit of obscure knowledge by natural philosophers in the privacy of their laboratories, such a view fails to recognize adequately the role science played in the public sphere. It was not merely a matter of 'facts' uncovered by 'scientists' in their laboratories, but also one of public representation of these facts and the knowledge which had been deduced from them. Newton challenged the authority of the Royal Society by suggesting and developing alternative conceptions of experimental credibility, mathematical certainty and dissemination. I contend that these alternative conceptions were a direct response by Newton to the controversies created by his optical theories. In order to avoid future disagreements, he tried to create a method of presenting his theories that would establish himself as authoritative. Thus, the dispute between Hooke and Newton played a key role that historians have hitherto failed to recognize in the shaping of the rhetorical methodology of science. By identifying and tracing the development of increasingly sophisticated literary technology, there is a great deal to be learned not just about seventeenth century natural philosophers but scientific writing as a whole. Through the close study of a specific dispute, such as between Hooke and Newton, we are able to learn more about the rhetorical methods used by scientists to establish their authority in regard to the knowledge they produce.



Isaac Newton, history of science, optics, literary technology, rhetoric, natural philosophy



Master of Arts (M.A.)






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