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The Elements of Newton's Philosophy, By Voltaire

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The Elements of Newton's Philosophy. By Voltaire. (Guildford and London: Billing and Sons Ltd., 1967. Pp xvi, 363.) In this essay, published in 1738, Voltaire explains the philosophies of not only Newton, but in a large part Descartes because of his contributions in the fields of geometry. In Voltaire's concise explanation of Newton's and other philosophers' paradigms related in the fields of astronomy and physics, he employs geometry through diagrams and pictures and proves his statements with calculus. Voltaire in fact mentions that this essay is for the people who have the desire to teach themselves, and makes the intent of the book as a textbook. In 25 chapters, and every bit of 357 pages, as well as six pages of definitions, Voltaire explains Newton's discoveries in the field of optics, the rainbow spectrum and colors, musical notes, the Laws of Attraction, disproving the philosophy of Descarte's cause of gravity and structure of light, and proving Newton's new paradigm, or Philosophy as Voltaire would have called it. Voltaire in a sense created the idea that Newton's principles were a new philosophy and acknowledged the possibility for errors. Through mathematical problems and solutions Voltaire shatters the paradigm of any faithful observer to Descartes philosophy and calls his way of thinking "Chaos" (Pp. 8). What amazed me was their ability to calculate things they were never able to do before, like the speed of light, proving it takes just eight minutes for a ray or rays of light from the Sun to reach Earth. Through Newton's achievements in calculus and his use of geometry Voltaire showed how we could estimate the distance between the Earth and the stars and planets. Voltaire precisely calculates how long it takes for the Sun to rotate as 25 and one-half days, which is an accepted answer today because of variance moving toward the poles. This book was at times difficult to grasp its principles when reading the calculus, but with its inclusion of geometry the material becomes accessible to most educated readers. Because it has the feel of a textbook for spreading the understanding of the new philosophy this book should be recommended to anyone studying the history of science, philosophy, or any of the various influential philosophers who contributed to understanding and truth through experimentation. One thing that amazed me were the similarities in English that was published in the late 1730's as today. The only real differences being some capitalization we don't follow, the use of an altered looking lower case f, which is pronounced with an s sound, and some European spelling.
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