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Leonhard Euler's ‘anti-Newtonian' theory of light

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Leonhard Euler was the leading eighteenth-century critic of Isaac Newton's projectile theory of light. Euler's main criticisms of Newton's views are surveyed, and also his alternative account according to which light is a wave motion propagated through the aether. Important changes are identified as having occurred between 1744 and 1746 in Euler's thinking about the way in which a wave such as he supposed light to be is propagated through a medium. Paradoxically, in view of Euler's overtly anti-Newtonian stand, these amount to Euler abandoning his early, Malebranchian notions about the physical basis of wave propagation, in favour of the ideas set out by Newton in Book II of his Principia .

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, 3052, Australia

Publication date: 1988-09-01

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