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Newton in da house

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Joined: 23 Oct 2003
Posts: 213
Location: UK

Posted: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:55 pm    Post subject: Newton in da house Reply with quote

I've just posted an extremely good article on Newton on:

- it's by the thoroughly admirable James Frazier. In it you'll find out whether Newton really ever said, "Sir, I have studied it and you have not" about astrology. But that's just the start - there's a whole lot to find out about Mr Newton.
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Joined: 11 Oct 2003
Posts: 945
Location: Australia

Posted: Sat May 21, 2005 10:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the link Garry. I have read the Newton article by James and it raises a number of interesting points.

In regard to whether Newton said ‘Sir, I have studied it, you have not’, I am not convinced that he said it of either astrology or religion. It is quite possible that it is one of those apocryphal stories that have changed in the telling. Brewster’s biography of Newton was published more than 100 years after Newton died and the story was recounted by someone who heard it from someone who heard it from someone else. Cowlings ‘factual evidence’ that it was said in regard to religion is possibly no more sound than those who repeat the astrology version.

The ‘unfounded claims that Newton was a proponent and practitioner of astrology’ might be due less to the desire to claim Newton as ‘one of our own’ as to a failure to recognise the clear difference between judicial astrology and natural astrology that was so evident in earlier times. In an unpublished biography by Newton’s nephew-in-law he was quoted as saying ‘I was soon convinced of the vanity and emptiness of the pretended science of judicial astrology.’ This, if accurate, is a clear statement that Newton does not accept the validity of judicial astrology. However, it cannot then be extrapolated from this statement that he rejected all astrology. As James points out in his article, there is no evidence to support a belief that Newton ever practiced judicial astrology. But there is evidence that he often thought about and applied astrological principles to his work. Astrology and alchemy shared much of the same philosophy including respect for the ‘Emerald Tablet’ a work that Newton once translated. Very few alchemists of those times had no knowledge of astrology and it is very unlikely that Newton rejected it outright.
So is there such a clear line between judicial astrology and what was described as 'natural astrology' in the early modern period? Is that differentiation evident today? Where do we draw the line between those who can legitimately be described as astrologers and those who can’t? Is there really such a line between those who practice judicial astrology and those who use astrological principles in their work? When we claim that someone is an ‘astrologer’, do we only claim those who practice judicial astrology or do we claim all that use astrology in any sense, including those who write about it but don’t practice it? If it was possible for a natural philosopher to ‘reject the practice of judicial astrology while still using astrological principles as well as the rich symbolism of astrology’ then what differentiates these people from astrologers? If we can't differentiate then why is it so wrong to think of Newton as a proponent of astrology?
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Joined: 11 Oct 2003
Posts: 4130
Location: England

Posted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes thanks for the link Garry. It is a very good article, well written and definitely worth a read (as is Sue’s of course, at It is heartening to see that recent research is correcting the patently false image of Newton as a scientist who had no time for symbolic principles.
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