Newton’s Criticism of Descartes’s Concept of Motion


  • Matjaž Vesel ZRC SAZU, Filozofski inštitut, Ljubljana



Newton, Descartes, definition of motion, body, force, absolute space


The author argues that Newton’s distinction between absolute and relative motion, i.e. the refusal to define motion in relation to sensible things, in “Scholium on time, space, place and motion” from Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, stems in great part from his critical stance towards Descartes’s philosophy of nature. This is apparent from the comparison of “Scholium”, in which Descartes is not mentioned at all, with Newton’s criticism of him in his manuscript De gravitatione. The positive results of Newton’s encounter with Descartes’s theory of motion is almost completely identical to those of the “Scholium”: the definition of motion must concern the whole body and not just its surface; instead of “mutual translation”, it must include the force that is the cause of the physical motion; the motion of the bodies is uniform and straightforward, which can only be achieved within absolute space. As far as the theory of motion is concerned, Newton’s philosophical challenge was always Descartes.


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2021-12-31 — Updated on 2022-04-06


How to Cite

Vesel M. Newton’s Criticism of Descartes’s Concept of Motion. FV [Internet]. 2022 Apr. 6 [cited 2022 May 18];42(3). Available from: