Nebraska Academy of Sciences


Date of this Version



Published in Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, Volume 3 (1976).


Copyright 1976 by the author(s).


In this paper I wish to trace the gradual breaking away from the powerful influence of Isaac Newton's views on the admissibility of hypotheses in "experimental philosophy," mainly as this break occurred in the writing of 19th century methodologists in Great Britain.

First, let us consider Newton's notion of hypothesis. The term is used in many different ways in Newton's various writings (I. B. Cohen, in Franklin & Newton, has distinguished at least 9 different senses of the word). But two major considerations are relatively clear: Newton called his science "experimental philosophy" in order to contrast it with the "hypothetical philosophy" of the Cartesians, and, secondly, hypotheses are contrasted by Newton with phenomena or things derived from phenomena. Newton's famous remark "Hypotheses non Jingo" occurs in this passage from the General Scholium of the Principia: "Hitherto I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena and I frame no hypotheses. For whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called a hypothesis; and thpotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy." (Thayer, 1953 :45). But this quotation is not entirely typical of Newton. In the first edition of the Principia he labeled at least 9 propositions as Hypotheses (these included what in later editions were called the Rules of Reasoning and the Phenomena), and he is quoted elsewhere as saying that in his own philosophy" ... hypotheses have no place, unless as conjectures or questions proposed to be examined by experiments." (Cohen, 1962:388).