Matter, motion, and Newtonian public science, 1720–41

Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth

in Deism in Enlightenment England

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780719078729
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781703304 | DOI:
Matter, motion, and Newtonian public science, 1720–41

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This chapter reviews Morgan's work, which incorporated and anticipated contemporary views of Newton. A material aether received considerable attention in the years after the publication of Physico-theology. Newton suggested that all of nature may be nothing but various contextures of some certain aetherial spirits of vapours condensed by precipitation. He then advised that aether might cause gravity because bodies will ‘get out and give way to the finer parts of aether below, which cannot be without the bodies descending to make room above for it to go out into’. Thus aether seemed a key component of the operation of nature. In this regard, Robinson also argued that the phenomena of nature were caused by a spiritual aether, which filled the universe and had both ‘Activity and Power’. This position bears striking resemblance to that advanced by Morgan, though Robinson's aether was spirit and Morgan's was the material light of the Opticks. Eighteenth-century Newtonianism was shaped by appeals to aethers and material fluids and predicated upon the materiality of light.

Keywords: aether; Thomas Birch; Newton; materiality of light; Robinson

Chapter.  11866 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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