Principles Beyond Ordinary Practice

Principles Beyond Ordinary Practice

A New Picture of Isaac Newton's 'Chymystry'

William R. Newman

11 November 2021 – 5 PM (CET)

Thanks mainly to the scholarship of Richard Westfall and Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, a widely received narrative emerged over the last generation on the subject of Isaac Newton’s alchemy.

Although the positions of Westfall and Dobbs were not verbatim identical, the net result of their approach was a claim that Newton’s alchemy was a largely theocentric pursuit that contributed to his science by allowing for a rebaptizing of magical sympathy as gravitational attraction.

Additionally, the two American scholars downplayed any interest that Newton may have had in medical alchemy, the chymiatria of the post-Paracelsian period.

My recent book Newton the Alchemist presents a very different picture.

From my perspective, Newton’s alchemical research was dominated by goals that were neither religious in orientation nor directed at solving the problem of gravity.

In addition, I have found evidence that Newton had a serious interest in iatrochemistry, a fact overlooked by previous scholars.

The present talk will give an overview of these recent discoveries and show how they alter the “standard narrative” of Newton’s alchemy.

About the Speaker ...

William Royall Newman is Distinguished Professor and Ruth N. Halls Professorof  History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University (US).

He received his Ph.D. in History of Science from Harvard University in 1986.

His main present research interests focus on early modern “chymistry” and late medieval “alchemy,” especially as exemplified by Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Daniel Sennert, and the first famous American scientist, George Starkey. Much of his research has centered on the history of matter-theory, especially corpuscularism and atomism, and on the history of early chemical technology. He has taught courses on these subjects in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, as well as courses on early science and its relationship to natural philosophy more broadly.

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