Document Type



Mathematics (Pitzer)

Publication Date



Isaac Newton, Colin Maclaurin, Newtonianism, Mathematics, Authority


Sir Isaac Newton revolutionized physics and astronomy in his Principia. How did he do it? Would his method work on any area of inquiry, not only in science, but also about society and religion? We look at how some Newtonians, most notably Colin Maclaurin, combined sophisticated mathematical modeling and empirical data in what has come to be called the "Newtonian Style." We argue that this style was responsible not only for Maclaurin’s scientific success but for his ability to solve problems ranging from taxation to insurance to theology. We show how Maclaurin’s work strengthened the prestige of Newtonianism and the authority of mathematics in general, and close with some observations about the authority of mathematical methods throughout history.


Please note that this paper won the Lester R. Ford Award in 2005.

Rights Information

© 2004 Mathematical Association of America. All Rights Reserved.