Phenomena in Newton's Principia

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Walsh, Kirsten
conference paper description
Newton described his Principia as a work of ‘experimental philosophy’, where theories were deduced from phenomena. He introduced six ‘phenomena’: propositions describing patterns of motion, generalised from astronomical observations. However, these don’t fit Newton’s contemporaries’ definitions of ‘phenomenon’. Drawing on Bogen and Woodward’s (1988) distinction between data, phenomena and theories, I argue that Newton’s ‘phenomena’ were explanatory targets drawn from raw data. Viewed in this way, the phenomena of the Principia and the experiments from the Opticks were different routes to the same end: isolating explananda.