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Kant and Plato as Cultural Influences

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Okay, I have one question. If Immanuel Kant is the juggernaut who made the essential arguments that lead to the destruction of Western freedoms, then how is it that religion is suddenly the bigger enemy? Doesn't it make sense that removing the primary cause of the decline of philosophy, Kant, is the way to make possible the rise of Objectivism and capitalism?

After all, religious arguments are easily defeated. I have some idea about what might be going on, which would be an answer to my own question, but I'll save that for later.

The philosophic threats today are nihilism and mysticism. Nihilists set us up, and mystics knock us down. It's not that there are some ideas out there that, once removed, would reveal a rational society. The rational foundation that once existed only implicitly has been eroded to next to nothing. In its place we have only a false-dichotomy. The survival of this country is going to depend on the spread of Objectivism, not the defeat of its opposition.

Think about it this way. Kant is responsible for disconnecting reason from reality. Nihilists use this to attack all absolutists. But the idea was actually Kant's way of "making room for faith", he was trying to help religion. So nihilists are not even Kantian, he just gave them the weapon they needed to disarm the culture. In the place of reason they can advocate anything.

In today's world a politician only "knows" something because he has faith. That's Kant. But I think there's a difference between someone who uses faith to command others, and those who depend on it because they know of no other alternative. There are enemies on both the Right and the Left, people who would exploit the nihilism of the age to further their own power lust. Obama's "hope" is just as much a mystical idea as the Biblical commandments of evangelicals. Hell, did you read there were women fainting at his rallies?

But I've had a chance to think a lot about this issue and I think it's a mistake to say that everyone who believes in God or has some irrational ideas because of religious faith is the same as a power luster. Don't underestimate the intellectual damage that nihilists have done; just look at the schools! The next generation will be far dumber than the last, and they are already being indoctrinated with the ideas to support a socialist revolution. The government controls what is taught in most schools, and it has science on a leash. The mass media supports the government with a socialist bias. The colleges only reinforce the bias, and most philosophers are complicit, teaching that ideas are all opinion, that we can't really know what's true. Most honest people don't know where to turn, having been disarmed of reason long ago. So they turn to religion, the only source of absolutes they know of. I think that's why you find so many of what Betsy calls "Good Objectivist Material ™" among that crowd.

It's not that we have to defeat religion, because as you said religion is easily defeated and the nihilists do it all the time. I think the reason so many people hold onto it despite the arguments is they hate what they see as the alternative. But we can show them another one.

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Think about it this way. Kant is responsible for disconnecting reason from reality. Nihilists use this to attack all absolutists.

Plato did that long before Kant. Plato insisted that the real Reality was not the domain given to us by the senses. In fact, Plato urged that the sensible domain misleads and distracts us from what is really, really Real. See the Parable of the Cave in -The Republic-.

Why is Plato not taken to task more than Kant, since Plato established the basis by which Kant separated the nouminal from the phenominal.

ruveyn

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Plato did that long before Kant. Plato insisted that the real Reality was not the domain given to us by the senses. In fact, Plato urged that the sensible domain misleads and distracts us from what is really, really Real. See the Parable of the Cave in -The Republic-.

Why is Plato not taken to task more than Kant, since Plato established the basis by which Kant separated the nouminal from the phenominal.

I think the reason is that Plato was defeated with the rediscovery of Aristotle and the Renaissance that followed. His ideas were dead, and it took Kant to revive them.

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I think the reason is that Plato was defeated with the rediscovery of Aristotle and the Renaissance that followed. His ideas were dead, and it took Kant to revive them.

Not really. Neo-Platonism carried Christianity well into the Middle Ages. The legacy of Platonism in modern times is the dominant position of mathematics in the sciences. Isaac Newton was more of a Platonist than he was an Aristotelian.

ruveyn

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Not really. Neo-Platonism carried Christianity well into the Middle Ages. The legacy of Platonism in modern times is the dominant position of mathematics in the sciences. Isaac Newton was more of a Platonist than he was an Aristotelian.

ruveyn

In what way?

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Not really. Neo-Platonism carried Christianity well into the Middle Ages. The legacy of Platonism in modern times is the dominant position of mathematics in the sciences. Isaac Newton was more of a Platonist than he was an Aristotelian.

ruveyn

In what way?

Mathematics was the key to Newton's physics. He made mathematical principle primary. Also compare Newton's physics to that of Descartes. Descartes physics could not include action at a distance. Descartes space was filled with a solid aether, very akin to Aristotle's notion of a plenum (filled up space). Aristotle rejected the vacuum. Newton did not. Newton saw space as Real (not relational - as did Leibniz) which put him more in Plato's camp. Newton was an atomist, Aristotle was not. Aristotle focused on the qualitative. Newton focused on the mathematical and the quantitative. Plato saw mathematics as the way the mind could focus on The Forms.

ruveyn

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I don't agree that it's eroded to nothing.

Well, I did say next to nothing. hehe

Yes, this was what I had in mind in my prior posting, Kant did make room for religion. He has succeeded in that and this is also the reason Islam is on the rise in the West. But, the interesting thing about Kantian epistemology is that it requires the disintegration of thought. Kant tells you that in order to be rational you have to do things which in reality are the opposite of what should be done. This is nihilism in its worst form. I'd say nihilists are Kantian in the important sense and that they accept the Kantian premises. Or perhaps they are Humeian premises, that we can't know the world as it is, and that there is no cause and effect. Almost everyone today is a Kantian.

So it doesn't make sense, then, to ask which is the greater threat. Kant is responsible for the influence of both nihilism and religion, so it's not Kant vs. religion.

We can. Still, the question is why is religion such a major menace in comparison to Kant? If you eliminate the arguments Kant provided, you eliminate the arguments that are bolstering religion.

Peikoff's argument is two fold:

1> Religion provides a moral foundation that is attractive to people, where as modern philosophy just gives us wishy-washy moral relativism. This gives religion more long term strength to attract people.

2> Religion, unlike Communism, can't be disproved in out sensory-perceptual field. We can't see heaven. This gives religion the edge over communism.

Yes, I remember him using that argument to show that religion was a greater threat than environmentalism. And if we're talking about theocracy I'd agree with it. But while there are some in politics who want to put religion back in the state, they face an overwhelming opposition right now, which includes not only the nihilists but many religious moderates. Case in point, which is being taught in public schools - Intelligent Design, or Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming?

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Not really. Neo-Platonism carried Christianity well into the Middle Ages. The legacy of Platonism in modern times is the dominant position of mathematics in the sciences. Isaac Newton was more of a Platonist than he was an Aristotelian.

In what way?

Mathematics was the key to Newton's physics. He made mathematical principle primary. Also compare Newton's physics to that of Descartes. Descartes physics could not include action at a distance. Descartes space was filled with a solid aether, very akin to Aristotle's notion of a plenum (filled up space). Aristotle rejected the vacuum. Newton did not. Newton saw space as Real (not relational - as did Leibniz) which put him more in Plato's camp. Newton was an atomist, Aristotle was not. Aristotle focused on the qualitative. Newton focused on the mathematical and the quantitative. Plato saw mathematics as the way the mind could focus on The Forms.

Newton was not a Platonist and did not make mathematics a metaphysical primary. His emphasis was on observing reality and formulating experiements to make his discoveries in physics. His emphasis on mathematics was as a method for formulating theoretical principles about reality in quantitative form and the establishment of relationships that could be derived by mathematical methods. Such an important role of mathematics does not make him a "Platonist". Descartes was a full fledged Rationalist in his philosophy and physics. Descartes's analytical geometry was an important contribution in mathematics but there is no comparison of stature and accomplishment between Newton and Descartes.

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Not really. Neo-Platonism carried Christianity well into the Middle Ages. The legacy of Platonism in modern times is the dominant position of mathematics in the sciences. Isaac Newton was more of a Platonist than he was an Aristotelian.

ruveyn

In what way?

As a young student at Cambridge, Isaac Newton was influenced by the Cambridge Platonists*, a group of intellectuals favoring Platonic idealism and the Pythagorean thesis that the cosmos is number. While Newton never became a member of this group, his approach to physics was well in line with the Neo-Platonic program. Newton was influenced, in particular, by Henry More a member of the group. The Cambridge Platonists diverged from the then preponderant Aristotelian view. Since they emphasized the Pythagorean program and view, they emphasized the role of mathematics in Natural Philosophy. Newton's teacher Isaac Barrow was also in agreement with the ideas of the Cambridge Platonists.

Please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Platonists

for a brief overview of this group.

The centrality of mathematics in theoretical physics still persists to this day, so the Platonic-Pythagorean program prevails in physics. Almost all Aristotelian elements have been purged from physics except for logic. The only place in science where Aristotle's Final Cause still lives on is in biology where biological function plays the role of telos. Formal cause exists in the mathematics ;efficient and material cause lives on in the dynamics of the physical sciences.

ruveyn

*The Platonism here was the neo-Platonism formulated by Plotinus.

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As a young student at Cambridge, Isaac Newton was influenced by the Cambridge Platonists*, a group of intellectuals favoring Platonic idealism and the Pythagorean thesis that the cosmos is number. While Newton never became a member of this group, his approach to physics was well in line with the Neo-Platonic program. Newton was influenced, in particular, by Henry More a member of the group. The Cambridge Platonists diverged from the then preponderant Aristotelian view. Since they emphasized the Pythagorean program and view, they emphasized the role of mathematics in Natural Philosophy. Newton's teacher Isaac Barrow was also in agreement with the ideas of the Cambridge Platonists.

Please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Platonists

From the Stanford Encyclopedia linked in that article:

The Cambridge Platonists were a group of English seventeenth-century thinkers associated with the University of Cambridge. The most important philosophers among them were Henry More (1614-1687) and Ralph Cudworth (1617-1689), both fellows of Christ's College, Cambridge.
They devoted their considerable philosophical learning to religious and moral issues, to defending the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, and to formulating a practical ethics for Christian conduct.

About Henry More:

In these writings, More elaborated a philosophy of spirit which explained all the phenomena of mind and of the physical world as the activity of spiritual substance controlling inert matter. More conceived of both spirit and body as spatially extended, but defined spiritual substance as the obverse of material extension: where body is inert and solid, but divisible; spirit is active and penetrable, but indivisible. It was in his correspondence with Descartes that he first expounded his view that all substance, whether material or immaterial, is extended.

About Ralph Cudworth:

In place of the mechanical explanation of the operations of nature, but proposed instead his hypothesis of ‘the Plastick Life of Nature’. Similar in conception to More's Hylarchic Principle, Cudworth's Plastic Nature is a formative principle which acts as an intermediary between the divine and the natural world, maintaining the mundane operations of the physical universe. Plastic Nature, is the means whereby God imprints His presence on his creation and makes His wisdom and goodness manifest (and therefore intelligible) throughout created nature.

In other words, they were rationalistic windbags. Where is this influence in Newton's Principia and Opticks?

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In other words, they were rationalistic windbags. Where is this influence in Newton's Principia and Opticks?

Read the General Scholium of -Principia Mathematica-. It is overt praise of God.

reference: please see:

http://www.isaac-newton.org/scholium.htm

Newton was a God-Phreak, first and foremost. He wrote four times as much on the "bible code" as he did on physics and optics. His physics oozed and reeked thoughts about God. He regarded space and time as the Sensorium of God. From a letter to David Gregory Newton wrote:

"Is not Infinite Space the Sensorium of a Being incorporeal, living and intelligent, who sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself?"

Further reference to God is described in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton.

Newton's efforts in physics are totally motivated by his religious convictions.

May I ask if you have read (in translation) -Principia Mathematica-?

If you haven't, I would recommend the new modern translation into English by I. Bernard Cohen and Ann Whitman.

ruveyn

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Newton's science and the methodology he employed, which occupied relatively short portions of his life, have nothing to do with his life long obsession with religion. His use of mathematics and his emphasis on observation and experiment as the means of discovering physical laws were not "Platonist".

Newton's major scientific works were Principia and Opticks. Bertrand Russell wrote Principia Mathematica.

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Newton's science and the methodology he employed, which occupied relatively short portions of his life, have nothing to do with his life long obsession with religion. His use of mathematics and his emphasis on observation and experiment as the means of discovering physical laws were not "Platonist".

Newton's major scientific works were Principia and Opticks. Bertrand Russell wrote Principia Mathematica.

Not so. His General Scholium indicates his motive for doing the physics was religious from the git-go.

Fortunately for posterity, Newton kept his theology in the Scholium and out of the proofs. Only algebra and geometry were permitted in the proofs. In his -Optiks- has main points were based on experimentation but his motive was religious. Newton was, in part, a compartmentalizer (fortunately for us).

Newton was a God-Phreak down to his bone marrow. The way you tell what makes a person go is to so how he goes. If you go by output, Newton's main interests were theology, Ancient Wisdom and alchemy by at least three to one. He did his mathematics over a relatively brief period when he was young and at the height of his mental power. The Rational Newton (the one we would like him to be) was not the Real Newton as was revealed in Newton's own papers. John Maynard Keynes (yes, -that- Keynes) was able to purchase the unpublished papers of Newton at auction back in the 1930s and the material revealed a very different Newton from the impression conveyed by the poet Alexander Pope in his poem of praise for Isaac Newton. Newton's (erroneous) concept of absolute time and space flowed directly from his religious beliefs. His concept of time existing independently of of matter in motion was very much at variance to Aristotle's view. Newton's religion was the key to the man.

ruveyn

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Not so. His General Scholium indicates his motive for doing the physics was religious from the git-go.

Fortunately for posterity, Newton kept his theology in the Scholium and out of the proofs. Only algebra and geometry were permitted in the proofs. In his -Optiks- has main points were based on experimentation but his motive was religious. Newton was, in part, a compartmentalizer (fortunately for us).

Which is why his Platonism is irrelevant to his actual accomplishments. A Platonist does not look at reality, take measurements, use induction. Whatever his motivation, Newton accepted Aristotle's theory of knowledge when he did his work (at least, the work he's recognized for). I know that he had a streak of irrationalism, I remember reading some comments by Stephen Speicher here about that. But it's not the irrationalism that we have to thank him for.

Newton was a God-Phreak down to his bone marrow.

"Down to his bone marrow"? If that were true, he would not have been capable of what he did. Obviously he was inconsistent and had conflicting premises, something that has been true of just about everyone through history. If he was a consistent Platonist and wrote only about God and religion, we would be living in a very different world today.

In my opinion, it's not the number of times one says God that shows how religious you are, it's the ideas you use when you deal with reality that show your fundamental allegiance. Newton, whether he acknowledged it or not, was on the side of Aristotle in that regard.

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May I ask if you have read (in translation) -Principia Mathematica-?

If you haven't, I would recommend the new modern translation into English by I. Bernard Cohen and Ann Whitman.

Thanks for the recommendation, no I haven't read it. I would like to read it at some point, although I have a lot of other reading planned first.

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-------------

Newton's religion was the key to the man.

ruveyn

I think what we have here is a failure to differentiate. For a better analysis, see Stephen's comments on Newton.

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Newton's science and the methodology he employed, which occupied relatively short portions of his life, have nothing to do with his life long obsession with religion. His use of mathematics and his emphasis on observation and experiment as the means of discovering physical laws were not "Platonist".

Newton's major scientific works were Principia and Opticks. Bertrand Russell wrote Principia Mathematica.

The title of Newton's opus is ---- Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica

very often referred to as -Principia Mathemtica- or Newton's -Principia Mathematica- in the literature.

Aristotle, by the way, did not do controlled experiments. Galileo and Newton did. And it wasn't a matter of technology either. In Aristotle's day (384 b.c.e - 322 b.c.e.) the Greeks knew how to make smooth inclined planes (from wood) and round things like balls and cylinders from wood and metal. It just never occurred to Aristotle to roll round things down inclined planes and measure the time of descent by using the pulse.

Aristotle did see feathers fall through the air more slowly than rocks or rain. From which he concluded that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies, in general. Wrong conclusion. Aristotle saw things move, as did everyone else before and since, but never came to the idea of inertia. Galileo and Newton did.

Now, if Newton and Aristotle had the same "theory of knowledge" why is it that Newton (and Galileo and Descartes) hit on the idea of inertia and Aristotle not? Surely Aristotle noticed that arrows and thrown heavy objects kept on moving even after the impelling force was removed. So why didn't Aristotle arrive at inertia?

ruveyn

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Plato did that long before Kant. Plato insisted that the real Reality was not the domain given to us by the senses. In fact, Plato urged that the sensible domain misleads and distracts us from what is really, really Real. See the Parable of the Cave in -The Republic-.

Could you please provide some citations from Plato's corpus supporting this view?

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I think the reason is that Plato was defeated with the rediscovery of Aristotle and the Renaissance that followed. His ideas were dead, and it took Kant to revive them.

The Renaissance did not kill Plato-it in fact made him much stronger, and much more powerful. Many philosophers, such as Descartes, were "rebelling" against the Church and Scholasticism, which established Aristotle (incorrectly) as their "leader". There was thus an exodus of people away from the study of Aristotle after the Renaissance.

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Plato did that long before Kant. Plato insisted that the real Reality was not the domain given to us by the senses. In fact, Plato urged that the sensible domain misleads and distracts us from what is really, really Real. See the Parable of the Cave in -The Republic-.

Could you please provide some citations from Plato's corpus supporting this view?

Plato's -Republic-. The Parable of the Cave. Our sensory experience, according to this parable, are mere shadows, imitations and images of The Real. This corresponds roughly to Kant's division between the nouminal and the phenominal.

Also -The Timeaus-, -The Meno- and -Theatatus-. In -The Meno- Socrates helps an uneducated slave boy recall geometric truths that he knew before his was born into this world. The slave boy remembered what was Real. Being in a body causes one to forget or distort what is Real. (This is Plato's view, not mine).

Plato is a mystic for sure, but his writing is very witty and entertaining, much more so than what we have of Aristotle. Cato (Marcus Tullius) claimed that Aristotle wrote dialogs that were as good as Plato's but we no longer have them. All we have left of Aristotle, an estimated 20 percent of his total output are the Cliff Notes . Many scholars believe that the writings of Aristotle are really lecture notes prepared by his students. No doubt what we have express Aristotle's thoughts, but the style of the writing is very crabbed and dry. Plato is a lot more fun to read than Aristotle from a stylistic point of view.

ruveyn

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May I ask if you have read (in translation) -Principia Mathematica-?

If you haven't, I would recommend the new modern translation into English by I. Bernard Cohen and Ann Whitman.

Thanks for the recommendation, no I haven't read it. I would like to read it at some point, although I have a lot of other reading planned first.

Newton's Principia, which is in fact what it is usually called, is not something you just "read" -- you work your way through it because it is highly technical and mathematical, mostly geometrical in the classical form of formal propositions and proofs. (That does not make him "Platonist" and neither does his emphasis on formulating his physics mathematically, which was a requirement to do that level of work in physics at all.)

So rather than plunge into Newton's Principia you would be better off starting with something like the Westfall biography, The Life of Isaac Newton, or his original longer version, Never at Rest. The latter contains more technical material, which he removed in the later abridged version intended for a general audience. A good biography discussing his technical works will give you the frame of reference you need to understand what he was doing in his Principia and Opticks and make understanding it more feasible for you if you decide you still want to work through the details of his scientific presentations. (You should also first have a good understanding of elementary kinematics, dynamics and optics as presented in modern physics texts because the original formulations were much more obscure and verbose than today's understanding and formulations.)

Newton was in fact a "God freak" and devoted much more of his time to rationalistic theological arguments and endless experiments in alchemy than to his science, but you are right that if he had not been able to think about and solve problems in the real world, make his own experiments, and use others' astronomical data he would never have made the scientific accomplishments he did. If his science had been "Platonism" he could not have done that and we would not be discussing him now.

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Newton was in fact a "God freak" and devoted much more of his time to rationalistic theological arguments and endless experiments in alchemy than to his science, but you are right that if he had not been able to think about and solve problems in the real world, make his own experiments, and use others' astronomical data he would never have made the scientific accomplishments he did. If his science had been "Platonism" he could not have done that and we would not be discussing him now.

Newton invented calculus. If he had never done anything else, we would still speak of him, probably in the same way we still speak about Leibniz who also invented calculus. If he had not been an active experimenter, inventor and theory maker, he still would be remembered as a great mathematician.

ruveyn

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Newton's Principia, which is in fact what it is usually called, is not something you just "read" -- you work your way through it because it is highly technical and mathematical, mostly geometrical in the classical form of formal propositions and proofs. (That does not make him "Platonist" and neither does his emphasis on formulating his physics mathematically, which was a requirement to do that level of work in physics at all.)

So rather than plunge into Newton's Principia you would be better off starting with something like the Westfall biography, The Life of Isaac Newton, or his original longer version, Never at Rest. The latter contains more technical material, which he removed in the later abridged version intended for a general audience. A good biography discussing his technical works will give you the frame of reference you need to understand what he was doing in his Principia and Opticks and make understanding it more feasible for you if you decide you still want to work through the details of his scientific presentations. (You should also first have a good understanding of elementary kinematics, dynamics and optics as presented in modern physics texts because the original formulations were much more obscure and verbose than today's understanding and formulations.)

That does sound like a better option for me. Thanks!

Newton was in fact a "God freak" and devoted much more of his time to rationalistic theological arguments and endless experiments in alchemy than to his science, but you are right that if he had not been able to think about and solve problems in the real world, make his own experiments, and use others' astronomical data he would never have made the scientific accomplishments he did. If his science had been "Platonism" he could not have done that and we would not be discussing him now.

What's funny is that I had read Stephen's comments before, but rereading them now it's clear I didn't fully integrate them. I listened to David Harriman's lectures on the Philosophic Corruption of Physics years back and of course he had glowing things to say about Newton and implied an almost completely consistent rationality. It's tough to reconcile that with information I've learned since. Given his passion for religion, it's amazing that he was able to do what he did.

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Newton's Principia, which is in fact what it is usually called, is not something you just "read" -- you work your way through it because it is highly technical and mathematical, mostly geometrical in the classical form of formal propositions and proofs. (That does not make him "Platonist" and neither does his emphasis on formulating his physics mathematically, which was a requirement to do that level of work in physics at all.)

So rather than plunge into Newton's Principia you would be better off starting with something like the Westfall biography, The Life of Isaac Newton, or his original longer version, Never at Rest. The latter contains more technical material, which he removed in the later abridged version intended for a general audience. A good biography discussing his technical works will give you the frame of reference you need to understand what he was doing in his Principia and Opticks and make understanding it more feasible for you if you decide you still want to work through the details of his scientific presentations. (You should also first have a good understanding of elementary kinematics, dynamics and optics as presented in modern physics texts because the original formulations were much more obscure and verbose than today's understanding and formulations.)

That does sound like a better option for me. Thanks!

After you have read the Westhall biography, the Cohen-Whitman translation of the Principia is the one to get. I don't have it myself, but looked up the table of contents and see that in addition to being a better translation it has a very long "introduction" by Cohen that is probably worth your reading even if you don't read all the Principia translation in the rest of the book. The book is on my "wish list" partly because Cohen is usually very good. His lectures on the history of science were so good that I used to listen to them even though I wasn't enrolled in his course.

Newton was in fact a "God freak" and devoted much more of his time to rationalistic theological arguments and endless experiments in alchemy than to his science, but you are right that if he had not been able to think about and solve problems in the real world, make his own experiments, and use others' astronomical data he would never have made the scientific accomplishments he did. If his science had been "Platonism" he could not have done that and we would not be discussing him now.

What's funny is that I had read Stephen's comments before, but rereading them now it's clear I didn't fully integrate them. I listened to David Harriman's lectures on the Philosophic Corruption of Physics years back and of course he had glowing things to say about Newton and implied an almost completely consistent rationality. It's tough to reconcile that with information I've learned since. Given his passion for religion, it's amazing that he was able to do what he did.

He was so good and had so much intellectual curiosity that he seems to have been good at any subject, even the unreal ones. If had spent all that effort on science during his lifetime there is no telling how much more he could have done. On the other hand if he hadn't joined the religious establishment he would not have been permitted to have his position in the university and may not have done anything. Newton is an example of how limited human progress is made despite the prevailing orthodoxy. In a full civilization much more would be possible, but one lives with the world he is born into.

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