Simon Schaffer has published a constructivist analysis of the acceptance of Newton’s theory of color that focuses on Newton’s experiments, the continual controversies over them, and his power and authority. In this article, I show that Schaffer’s account does not agree with the historical evidence. Newton’s theory was accepted much sooner than Schaffer holds, when and in places where Newton had little power; many successfully repeated the experiments and few contested them; and theory mattered more than experiment in acceptance. I also present an alternative account of the acceptance of Newton’s theory that shows that, despite criticism when it was first published in 1672, the theory, or parts of it, gradually came to be accepted by mathematical scientists—including Huygens and Leibniz—and Scottish natural philosophers by the time of the publication of the Opticks in 1704. On the Continent, it was coming to be accepted within a decade or so after its publication, that is, before 1716, when Newton replied to a challenge, purportedly by Leibniz, that Schaffer sees as the crucial conflict that at last gave Newton’s experiments their authority.
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March 01 1996
The Gradual Acceptance of Newton’s Theory of Light and Color, 1672–1727
Alan E. Shapiro
University of Minnesota
Online ISSN: 1530-9274
Print ISSN: 1063-6145
©1996 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
Perspectives on Science (1996) 4 (1): 59–140.
Alan E. Shapiro; The Gradual Acceptance of Newton’s Theory of Light and Color, 1672–1727. Perspectives on Science 1996; 4 (1): 59–140. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/posc_a_00498
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