Paolo Casini

Newton in Prussia

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The calculus quarrel and the ensuing controversy between Leibniz and Clarke was just the beginning of the lessknown story of the reception of the Newtonian synthesis in German eighteenth-century culture. The present essay deals with the Wolffian-Newtonian debate in the correspondence between Voltaire, Frederick II and Mme du Châtelet during the years 1736-40. Voltaire's role in the young Kronprinz's education was pivotal, especially in convincing the pupil of the superiority of Newton's natural philosophy in comparison with Wolff's metaphysics. In 1740 the new king of Prussia, following Voltaire's suggestions, trusted the reformed Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin to the leading Newtonian French scientist Pierre Moreau de Maupertuis. As a consequence, Wolff and his metaphysics were discredited within the Academy, and the Wolffian "Schulphilosophie" collapsed under the attacks of the great mathematician Leonhard Euler. In this way Frederick's cosmopolitan Enlightenment promoted a full reception of the Newtonian physics, which was considered as a methodological model of both metaphysical and physical research by the young Kant and his contemporaries who rejected the old "dogmatic philosophy ".

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