Isaac Newton

Most people that you talk to will probably have some idea of who Isaac Newton is; even the typical person shown on the Jaywalking piece on the Tonight Show believe that, at the very least, he "invented gravity" (seriously, some people's children...).

What a lot of people do not realize is that like many other early modern philosophers, Isaac Newton had a number of different occupations and discoveries over his lifetime. These would help to shape the way in which people saw the world for generations after. You might be surprised to find that among the elite group of modern philosophers, Isaac Newton was not the most important; although, today he is certainly the most well recognized name in the bunch. In this article, we will present a brief biography of the person who defined gravity, noting some of his achievements in fields beyond physics.

Early Life

Isaac Newton was born prematurely, and as a result spent most of his life under size when compared to many boys his age. Moreover, Newton's father died three months before he was born and, when Isaac was three years old, his mother remarried and left him to live with his grandmother. It could be that these two facts combined to help him gain the drive to rise to such a great man; certainly he was a contentious youngster, bearing quite a grudge against his stepfather for many years.

The single-mindedness demonstrated in his passions served young Newton well when it came to school. Enrolled at The King's School in Grantham at the age of twelve, Newton quickly gained recognition as the premier academic at that institution. He attended the school until the age of seventeen, when his mother removed him. Newton's stepfather had died, and Newton's mother decided that farming, and not academics, was the path he should take.

Fortunately, Newton's efforts at Grantham were widely known, and the master of the school convinced his mother to let him continue on a scholastic path. He finished his first school at the age of 18 (older than many other of the premier minds of his day) and was accepted into Trinity College, where he became a fan of modern philosophers such as Descartes. He also showed a keen interest in the principles of astronomy being established by Galileo and Copernicus.

Middle Years

It was not until the age of 50 that Newton began to publish many of the ideas for which he is famous today. In fact, the late age at which he began publishing his theories on calculus was to cause a lot of problems for academia at that time, as Austrian Leibniz was advancing theories that were very similar. They were actually so similar that both Newton and Leibniz were haunted by allegations of plagiarism for the rest of their lives.

The fact that Newton failed to publish for so long is attributed to his reluctance to open himself up to mockery. Ironically, most of his contemporaries regarded him as a first-rate mind. He posed several advancements in the way people regarded the field of optics, was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge, and began his most celebrated work in the areas of physics all in his middle years.

Later Life and Other Achievements

Demonstrated in his reluctance to publish his ideas on calculus, Newton had a way of avoiding having his work reach the public eye. This dissipated as he entered his later years, as many of Newton's ideas began to be published after he turned 50 (which still left plenty of time, for Newton lived to be 84 years old. In between his years in the science and mathematics areas and his final career as Warden of the Royal Mint, Newton would make some of his most important contributions to modern philosophy, which of course was centred on religion.

Again, however, a reluctance to publish was to keep some of Newton's most important ideas out of the public eye. Chief among them was a paper written and sent to John Locke, in which he argued against the idea of the Trinity. Two more works, on Ancient Kingdoms in the Bible and commentaries on prophecies, would not see publication until after his death.

Newton also demonstrated an interest in alchemy during his later years. And, when he died, large amounts of mercury were found in his body. Some believe that this substance may have caused the eccentric behaviour he showed during his waning years, although it should be kept in mind that he was 84 years old.

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Understanding Philosophy

Thursday, April 24, 2014