The World at the Time of Sir Isaac Newton

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When most people hear the name Isaac Newton, they think of various laws of physics and the story of the apple falling from the tree; in addition, some may even think of him as the inventor of calculus. However, there was much more to Newton’s life which was in part molded by the happenings around the world. The seventeenth century was a time of great upheaval and change around the world. The tumultuousness of this era was due mostly to political and religious unrest which in effect had a great impact on the mathematics and science discoveries from the time Newton was born in 1646 until the early 1700’s.

Newton’s birth in 1646 came at the tail-end of the 30-years war which was fought in Central Europe. The war began in 1618 in Bohemia over religious differences between Protestants and Catholics; however as time passed, the war became more political and soon most countries in Europe were involved (Ellis & Esler, 1999). The war ended in 1648 by a series of treaties knows as the Pease of Westphalia with France coming out victorious gaining land from both Spain and Germany (Ellis & Esler, 1999). The tension felt between the Protestants and Catholics was mirrored in England where there was a civil war beginning in 1640 and continuing until 1659. Early in the civil war Oliver Cromwell was chosen as leader of Parliament with his staunch Puritan beliefs; he soon became a leader of the Protestant side of the war. During this time, many considered England to be almost in anarchy with groups such as the Ranters, Levellers, and Diggers battling over various religious and political beliefs (Merriman, 1996). In 1649 Charles I, who had been King of England prior to the civil war, was beheaded and England became a Commonwealth and ...

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... the true founder of calculus; however, much of the notation used today is courtesy of Leibniz because, according to many mathematicians, his notation is far superior to Newton’s (O'Connor & Robertson, Calculus History, 1996).

So, how did the events around the world during the seventeenth century help Newton develop calculus? In England and much of Europe science became a part of public life of the seventeenth century (Merriman, 1996). Charles II created the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge in 1662 where many scientists studied and discussed their theories (Merriman, 1996). The Reformer’s victory in the English civil war gave Newton and other scientists their voice and the courage to study and find many of the scientific discoveries, as this was not the case with Galileo and many other scientists in Catholic countries (Merriman, 1996).
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