The Info List - General Scholium

--- Advertisement ---

The GENERAL SCHOLIUM is an essay written by Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
, appended to his work of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica
Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica
, known as the Principia. It was first published with the second (1713) edition of the Principia and reappeared with some additions and modifications on the third (1726) edition. It is best known for the "Hypotheses non fingo " ("I do not frame hypotheses") expression, which Newton used as a response to some of the criticism received after the release of the first edition (1687). In the essay Newton not only counters the natural philosophy of René Descartes
René Descartes
and Gottfried Leibniz , but also addresses scientific methodology , theological and metaphysical issues.


* 1 Rejecting Cartesian vortices * 2 Scientific method
Scientific method
argument * 3 Theological views * 4 "The Spirit" * 5 References * 6 External links


In the first paragraph of the General Scholium, Newton attacks René Descartes ' model of the solar system . Descartes and his supporters were followers of mechanical philosophy , a form of natural philosophy popular in the 17th century which maintained that nature and natural beings act similar to machines. In his book The World , Descartes suggests that the creation of the solar system and the circular motion of the planets around the Sun
can be explained with the phenomena of "swirling vortices". Descartes also claimed that the world is made out of tiny "corpuscles" of matter, and that no vacuum could exist.

Descartes' model did not cohere with the ideas introduced in the first edition of the Principia (1687). Newton simply rejected Descartes' "corpuscles and vortices" theory and suggested that gravitational force acts upon celestial bodies regardless of the vast empty interstellar space in between. Newton was publicly criticised by Cartesians on this non-mechanistic theory. As a response to this criticism, Newton argued that Descartes' Vortices cannot explain the unique movement of comets . He sums up the paragraph with the words:

The motions of the Comets are exceedingly regular, are governed by the same laws with the motions of the Planets, and can by no means be accounted for by the hypotheses of Vortices. For Comets are carried with very eccentric motions through all parts of the heavens indifferently, with a freedom that is incompatible with the notion of a Vortex.


Newton did not offer any reasons or causes for his law of gravity, and was therefore publicly criticised for introducing "occult agencies" into science. Newton objected to Descartes' and Leibniz's Scientific method
Scientific method
of deriving conclusions by applying reason to a priori definitions rather than to empirical evidence , and famously stated "hypotheses non fingo ", Latin
for "I do not frame hypotheses":

I have not as yet been able to discover the reason for these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I do not frame hypotheses. For whatever is not deduced from the phenomena must be called a hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, or based on occult qualities, or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy.

The General Scholium then goes on to present Newton's own approach to scientific methodology. Contrary to the deductive approach of Descartes and Leibniz, Newton holds an inductive approach to scientific inquiry. Phenomena should first be observed, and then general rules should be searched for, and not vice versa. It is this approach, states Newton, that has led to the discovery of "the laws of motion and gravitation":

In this philosophy particular propositions ar