The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton's Thought

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In this major reevaluation of Isaac Newton's intellectual life, Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs shows how his pioneering work in mathematics, physics, and cosmology was intertwined with his study of alchemy. Professor Dobbs argues that to Newton those several intellectual pursuits were all ways of approaching Truth, and that Newton's primary goal was not the study of nature for its own sake but rather an attempt to establish a unified system that would have included both natural and divine principles. She also argues that Newton's methodology was much broader than modern scholars have previously supposed, and she traces the evolution of his thought on the intertwined problems of the microcosmic "vegetable spirit" of alchemy and the "cause" of the cosmic principle of gravitation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dobbs is always in complete control of the highly diverse strands of her argument. A splendid achievement." R. Palter, Choice

"...provides many interesting insights into Newton's way of working. It is clearly written." J.S. Joel, Mathematical Reviews

"...detailed and convincing..." William R. Shea

"In this outstanding book Dobbs has raised the understanding of Newton to a new level of sophistication. No superlative I have used overstates my estimate of the value of The Janus Faces of Genius." Richard Westfall, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"...tracks, more thoroughly than any single work previously has done, the constant recalibrations of Newton's efforts to synthesize all human knowledge so that history, theology, and science become reflexive confirmations of a mysterious order of the universe....its appeal should extend beyond historians of science. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the intellectual development of early modern history." Robert Markley, Configurations

"This is an important and stimulating book. The fruit of long and patient research, it offers a full account of Newton's varied intellectual interests and of the unity that links and shapes the diverse expressions of his quest for truth. Professor Dobbs builds skillfully upon the firm foundations of contemporary scholarship to forge a masterly account of Newton's vision, and to examine the cultural and individual imperatives that impelled his search for an ultimate understanding of the way things are. Dobb's study can be read with profit by specialist and nonspecialist alike." J.E. McGuire, American Journal of Physics

"Dobbs's achievement is to make the unity of Newton's many different studies, when viewed within the integrating framework of alchemy, not only evident but obvious; I know of no more thorough or learned treatment of her subject." Tracy Fessenden, History of Religions

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521524872
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 8/22/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations; Acknowledgments; 1. Isaac Newton, philosopher by fire; 2. Vegetability and providence; 3. Cosmology and history; 4. Modes of divine activity in the world: before the Principia; 5. Modes of divine activity in the world: the Principia period; 6. Modes of divine activity in the world: after the Principia, 1687–1713; 7. Modes of divine activity in the world: after the Principia, 1713–1727; 8. Epilogue; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 1, 2009

    Must reading

    This is without a doubt the best treatment of a little known, yet indispensible, aspect of Newton's thought. Most of us only know of Newton the scientist who "discovered" the law of gravity. Little do we know that this law of gravity was inextricably bound by his greater interest in alchemy. This book describes it all. The appendix is especially interesting because it contains actual alchemal texts, observations from his many experiements in alchemy.

    This is an engrossing read!

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