Robbie the years at Cambridge, and the seemingly

Robbie Billy

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English, 4th Hour

9 January

Isaac Newton

There were many contributing factors in the outcome of Newton’s
success and effects on the Enlightenment. Sir Isaac Newton is the best example
of someone who had the worst circumstances and worked a great deal for
everything he accomplished to make the best of it. This includes his early life
disadvantages, the years at Cambridge, and the seemingly unconquerable problems
he encountered in his late lifetime. Isaac Newton was the figurehead of the
Enlightenment, and his impactful contributions range from the invention of
calculus to his famous work Principia

Newton was born on Christmas Day in Woolsthorpe England, 1642. One
of his earliest problems in life was that he had an incredibly low life
expectancy; he was the size of a large English mug (“Isaac Newton” par. 6). Newton’s
father died a few months before Sir Isaac was born; this lack in a father
figure ultimately led to the over-attention he received from his mother and
caused him to have a closed off personality. After a few years, Newton’s mother
got remarried, but his stepfather died too. This caused Newton’s uncle to come into
town to help out his sister and nephew. Newton was called home from school to
work the family farm which put his future temporarily on hold. At the time,
this seemed like a smart and practical decision, but his uncle saw the great
potential in his intelligent nephew and sent him back to Cambridge (Garvin par.
9). This was the beginning of the many setbacks Newton experienced in his
plentiful life.

The University of Cambridge was the engine that drove Isaac
Newton’s train. In the beginning, he started like many others, he fully
immersed himself in Galileo and Aristotle’s work. This is why so many of the philosophers
from this time period have similar views on basic concepts. Newton, the young
student, embarked on his journey to become a well-known philosopher and arrived
at Trinity College Cambridge on June 5, 1661. “Despite his family’s money, Newton
attended Cambridge as a subsizar sic, a type of working student” (par. 10).
After a year of school, his stepfather died so he temporarily left the university
to help on the farm and pick up the slack. In 1664, a few years after he
returned to the university, he entered and won a scholarship contest which
allowed him to quit his job and attend school with no fees (par. 10). The Black
Death fell upon Europe the next year, which forced the university to close. For
about half a semester Newton was once again at home, but this time it was a
good thing because he continued his academics without the restrictions of the
school. He had no academic deadlines and had essentially freedom in his
studies. This is when he finally started to break out into the famous
intellectual we know; discovering his theory in light and beginning to form his
laws of motion (par.11).

Isaac Newton was not only a very intelligent
man, but also a very privileged, and hardworking student. This long list
contains the start of the many milestones he achieved, it’s shown on the 1780th
page in Anthony Storr’s scholarly Journal, Isaac Newton:

In February 1664 he was
elected scholar and took his BA in 1665. In 1667 he became a minor fellow, in
1668 an MA and Major fellow. In 1669, when still only 27, he became a
Lucasian professor of mathematics. Charles II provided, by letter patent, a
special dispensation, which allowed Newton to take this chair without at the
same time taking holy orders, a step that was normally demanded of all fellows.
(Storr 1780)

There is a variety of
practices Sir Isaac Newton excelled at, the first two of these fields was in
Alchemy and Mathematics. The practice of alchemy did not end up as a positive
experience for Sir Isaac, just past the age of 50, he went mentally ill from
what most believe is Mercury poisoning. This was as a result of Newton possibly
attempting to expand his brain due to a silly old scientific belief. Even
though Newton did not succeed here, he was an outstanding philosopher in the
field of Math (Isaac Newton 1). As mentioned, later on, he created a new
subject of math, which is widely applied around the globe. This eventually
helped shape many of our modern subjects of math including physics and a
present-day geometry. Newton was also an inventor and was involved in the field
of astronomy. This was a very beneficial area of work for Isaac Newton because
it tied into some of his studies and inventions such as the reflecting
telescope (Anirudh par. 6). Newton only focused on a single section in optics
but spent a lot of time working on it. Including multiple years of work devoted
to confirming and testing his theories on light and the color spectrum. This is
another area of his life with advantages and disadvantages. Isaac Newton was
very involved in a variety of things, alchemy, math, optics, astronomy, and

Newton actually spent a few years more politically focused than
scientifically focused. He was the second scientist ever to be knighted; this
developed into quite the honor because after being appointed Warden in 1696, he
became a Master of the Royal Mint in 1700. About three years passed and Newton
was appointed President of the Royal Society and served as a member of
Parliament (Anirudh par.11).


Most people completely overlook all the setbacks and problems Sir
Isaac Newton met in his lifetime and focus on the accomplishments.  The truth is he took place in many
disagreements and had major issues in his life. The first of his disagreements
were with the philosopher Leibniz. This was because Newton waited to publish
his creation of Calculus. The two had a big disagreement on it because Newton
created Calculus in 1664-6, but didn’t publish it until 1687. Meanwhile,
Leibniz clearly created it years after in 1675-6 and published it in 1684.
Technically the debate between the two was never settled, but Newton was given
credit since he started earlier than Leibniz. (Storr 1781). Newton got himself
into many quarrels with Robert Hooke, and the astronomer Flamsteed. The
disagreement with Flamsteed was clearly just due to Newton being lazy and not
giving clear enough credit to Flamsteed’s advice on a set of astronomical
teachings; after a while, the two refused to see each other. The third of
Newton’s quarrels were with Robert Hooke, Hooke and Newton disagreed on nearly
all Newton’s discoveries. The first time, Hooke criticized his theory of light
and went to great lengths and experiments to challenge its credibility. The
conclusion was that Newton is correct because he has a clear experiment and
procedure proven to work, unlike Hooke’s empty threats (1781).

The largest mountain Newton has ever climbed was in 1693 when he
became mentally ill. The great Sir Isaac Newton had deteriorated and blocked
off every relationship in his life. It even got to the point where he would
report threats and conversations that never happened and went insane. “It has
been suggested that Newton, who performed chemical experiments in his room, was
suffering from poisoning by mercury…” (1782) This was never confirmed because
there are no proven records that he lost any teeth which is a side effect of
mercury poisoning. The outcome of Isaac Newton’s life is not surprising when
examining his childhood. He was always tinkering with items and making gadgets,
but also possessed a weird closed off personality (1779).

Newton either discovered or helped start the path to the majority
of the concepts and tools we use in our everyday lives. One of the earliest
discoveries Newton made was while he was at home due to the European plague.
This is the discovery of gravity; this tied into his many fields of work
including astronomy. Imagine not knowing why we don’t float into space; this
was actually a question before the Enlightenment. “In Principia, Newton
formulated his law of universal gravitation which states that any two bodies in
the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to
the product of their masses…” (Anirudh par. 3). Newton’s religious beliefs are
not often mentioned in many papers, but he did study the Bible all throughout
his lifetime. When revealing his theories on a gravitational force in Principia
Mathematica, he made it clear to everyone that God made gravity, he just
discovered it. In 1665, Newton made another extraordinary contribution to our
lives, he invented Calculus. This not only made it all the way into our
modern-day universities and school systems, but was helpful to many other
scientists in the Enlightenment.

Sir Isaac developed his theories on white light and the color
spectrum back at home when he discovered gravity. Newton formed an experiment,
to try to prove the current theory (at the time) of white light was wrong.
“Advocates of the wave theory had previously stated that light waves are made
of white light, sic and that the colour sic spectrum that can be seen through
a prism is formed because of corruption within the glass” (Klus 3). Essentially
what this is saying is that the more glass the light passes through, the more
corrupt it becomes (3). Newton set up two separate prisms at special angles and
shot a beam of white light through the two prisms. The white light passed
through the first prism and split into the color spectrum, but when it passed
through the second prism it returned to its appearance of white light. This
allowed Newton to confirm there is no corruption involved in the creation of
the color spectrum. Newton also later tested and found light actually acts as a
particle, a “photon.” After getting into the field of optics with white light,
Newton decided to improve the telescope. He realized he could easily compact it
and enlarge the image if he spent the time. After trials and errors of
different lenses, he attempted to replace them with mirrors. This ended up
taking up half the space as the lenses and made the image clearer.

The laws of motion are equally important as Newton’s discovery of
gravity. They describe how everything around us moves and reacts to each other.
He split the laws into 3 parts, the law of Inertia, F =MA, and Action Reaction.
The law of Inertia states an object will not change its course unless affected
by an outside force. The second law talks about how the acceleration of
something is proportional to the force acting on it. He sums both of these laws
up with the third one by saying that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
This is currently used in schools around the world to teach subjects in
Physics, Earth Science, and even Newton’s brainchild, Calculus. These
inventions and theories he formed are all intertwined, he has years of solid
work and experiments for each field of work he is in, ranging from astronomy to
optics. He reveals all this in a nice order and work he produced in Principia Mathematica.

“Newton’s contribution to Enlightenment science helped to make
science a respectable area of inquiry and removed the last pull of blasphemy
that had lingered since the time of Galileo.” (Garvin par. 34) Our world would
be completely different if Sir Isaac Newton had not been born. He is one of the
many intellectual giants that constructed one theory and it produced a whole new
topic. Newton creates this chain reaction through the enlightenment all the way
up to the present day by creating Calculus, developing a new telescope, and
even discovering gravity. Isaac Newton is a very influential being who has
certainly left a fingerprint on our lives.


Working Bibliography

Anirudh. “10 Major
Accomplishments of Isaac Newton.” Learnodo Newtonic, 2 May 2016,

Garvin, Karen S. “Isaac
Newton: Figurehead of Enlightenment Science.” Academia, 28 June


“Isaac Newton.” Isaac
Newton – New World Encyclopedia, New World Encyclopedia,

Klus, Helen. “Newton’s
Theory of Light.” The Star Garden, 6 Aug. 2017,

Storr, Anthony. “Isaac
Newton.”JSTOR, vol. 291, 21 Dec. 1985, pp. 1779–1784.,



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