Seeking Nature's Logic

Natural Philosophy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By (author) David B. Wilson

Hardback - £49.95

Publication date:

16 July 2009

Length of book:

360 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271035253

The Scottish Enlightenment was a vital moment in the history of Western civilization. As one modern admirer of Scotland cogently wrote: “No small nation—except Greece—has ever achieved an intellectual and cultural breakthrough of this magnitude.” Placing Isaac Newton’s natural philosophy within a broad conceptual context, Seeking Nature’s Logic takes that science from Galileo to the early nineteenth century, concentrating on Scotland during the 120 years from 1690 to 1810—a period defined by the publication of Newton’s Principia in 1687 and the death of John Robison in 1805. Newton’s work changed the course of natural philosophy, and Robison was the most significant natural philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment.

As professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh University from 1774 to 1805, John Robison taught the premier science of the day at the premier science university of the time. He discovered experimentally that electrical and magnetic forces were, like gravity, inverse square forces, and he wrote influential treatises on electricity, magnetism, mechanics, and astronomy. By articulating a particularly Scottish approach to physics, he was the main conceptual link between Newton and those Scottish geniuses of Victorian physics, Lord Kelvin and James Clerk Maxwell. Seeking Nature’s Logic explains the background of Robison’s natural philosophy, analyzes his own sharply shifting ideas, and places those ideas in the context of early nineteenth-century Scottish thought.

“David Wilson’s comprehensive study of Scottish Enlightenment natural philosophy explores in detail the extent to which chemical ideas shaped the teaching of natural philosophy in Scotland, the ways in which natural theological concerns drove natural philosophizing, and the ways in which metaphysical and epistemological concerns were incorporated into the teaching of natural philosophy. The scholarship is sound and reflects a thorough command of relevant printed and manuscript materials.”

—Richard G. Olson, Harvey Mudd College