“Tired with this subject…” – Newton and Publication

Isaac Newton’s publication record is not exactly impressive: two articles, the New Theory of Light and Colours (1672) and the Hypothesis of Light (1675), and two books, the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) and Opticks (1703). Even if we include the second and third editions of the Principia, which contained major revisions, the various editions of Opticks, and all his (semi-) public correspondence, a fictional Collected Works of Isaac Newton would scarcely amount to more than ten volumes. In comparison, Robert Boyle’s collected (published) works would come in at about 17 volumes, and Christiaan Huygens’s at 22. And they did not live until the ripe old age of 84, as Newton did.

So why did Newton publish so little?

In December I presented a paper at Imperial College about Newton’s publication strategies as part of the Silences of Science series, which was recorded and can be found here:


In this paper (forthcoming) I argue for a connection between Newton’s publication strategies, his view of what it meant to be a natural philosopher, and his alchemical endeavours. Enjoy!

15/01 added: Felicity Mellor’s excellent take on Silences of Science: http://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2014/jan/15/shhhh-scientists-need-to-talk-about-not-talking


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