How Did Isaac Newton Influence The European Enlightenment

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The European Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world. Among the foremost philosophers of this period were Isaac Newton (1642-1726) and John Locke (1632-1704). Newton is important for a variety of reasons, ranging from his influence in the development of the Scientific Revolution to his invention of the calculus and work in the field of optics. His greatest contribution was the development of Newtonian physics--a worldview that broke with ancient and medieval conceptions of how the world functioned in relation to the cosmos. Among the thinkers most influenced by Newton was John Locke. Locke is remembered as one of the first empirical philosophers, specifically…show more content…
Historian Peter Gays points out “the rapid spread of Newton’s ideas on the Continent only underlines Newton’s towering authority” (Gay, 135). First and foremost, Casini notes that “in Newton's lifetime there was a substantial shift in the meaning of the term 'philosophy '.” This was accomplished primarily by the French encyclopedist school, which embraced the “Newtonian synthesis” of physical relationships as a means of organizing information about the world (Casini, 37). Furthermore, although Newton himself was a devout Christian, his approach emboldened secular believers searching for explanatory causes. Voltaire, for example, incorrectly “associated the propaganda of Newton's discoveries with that of English Deism and freethinking" (Casini, 42). Nevertheless, the scientific appeal of causes without reference to a deity remains one of the primary legacies of Newton. At the same time, many philosophers believed Newton’s system limited what could actually be understood about the world. "In Diderot's opinion,” writes Casini “Newton… had erected the pillars of Hercules and had marked out the ultimate boundaries of the mathematical sciences" (Casini, 44). Finally, Casini notes the importance of the Newtonian approach in influencing the Scottish empiricists. Their foremost thinker, David Hume, “insisted on the need for universal principles, for…show more content…
Although he was a physician, Locke was much more interested in how human society functioned and proper place of government in relation to the people that made-up a society. In Chapter 2 of his “Treatise on Civil Government,” Locke wrote that in “a state of equality… no one having more than another” all persons are “born to all the same advantages of Nature” and “should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination of subjection” (Locke, 22). This line of reasoning is important, because it appears to demolish the concept of class and artificial structures of powers (such as a hereditary monarchy). Later, in the same piece, Locke also wrote “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions” (Locke, 22). After establishing the essential “equality” of all persons, Locke also created a basic formula for how they should interact in a society and the role of government as the mechanism for “securing” these fundamental

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