Natural Philosophy, The Governance of Order

While Sir Isaac Newton may certainly have had his quirks, his philosophy regarding how the inner dynamics of The Royal Society was sound. In “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” Newton breaks down the “rules” of how natural philosophy (or really the quest for scientific exploration and explanation) is designed to operate. While at first these four rules may seem odd, or even ill-grounded, it is important to note that they are important not only because of their content, but also their context. While the Royal Society is often thought of as a sort of rogue band for free thinkers, here we actually see it being structured more as a bureaucratic government. In this document Newton lays our very plainly the four rules (not guidelines, which both implies that they are absolute and also punishable) for practicing natural philosophy. Then Newton breaks down each rule in a subordinate clause, truly spelling out the degree of the rule, it’s implications and practical application.

We can still see elements of this sort of governmental structure in the 21st century online version of the Royal Society. The Royal Society’s website is broken down into categories that then open up to reveal additional drop downs. By clicking on those link one can delve further into the world of the Royal Society. However, I feel as those Newton would be disappointed in the conduct of the website. For instance, while there may be structure within the website, there does not appear to be any sort of governmental order as to who can access the information.

To me, this is the fundamental difference between the tradition Royal Society and that of today: ease of access. From my readings, I viewed the traditional Royal Society as a sort of elitist club. However, the Royal Society depicted today seems far more accessible, with events, scholarships and multiple contributors. That being said, I wonder if this sort of open accessibility is actually compromising the integrity of the society. If the greatest minds are being understood and accessed by the common individual does that mean that the average intellect is being raised, or the enlightened is being snuffed by the overwhelming demand of the dim-witted crowd. I think this is more a question of who deserves knowledge and how much should any one individual be allowed to have. Does knowledge truly set you free or act as an active agent in oppression? I do not have solid answers for these questions, but I thought they may be interesting food for thought or feeder for discussions.

Elle Lammouchi


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