Aesthetics and Holism: Newton on Light, Color, and Music

  • David R. Topper


Color Theory Individual Color Unify Field Theory Perfect Colour Optical Color 


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  1. More details on this topic are found in David Topper, “Newton on the Number of Colours in the Spectrum,” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 21, No. 2 (1990), pp. 269–279. Also useful is Alan E. Shapiro, “Artists’ Colors and Newton’s Colors,” Isis 85 (1994), pp. 600–630, although we disagree on the sequential roles of aesthetics and music in the development of Newton’s thoughts on light. My remarks on sea green in the spectrum support my view that the musical analog was not the source of the seven-color division, but a consequence.Google Scholar
  2. The primary sources are Newton, Opticks (New York: Dover Publications, 1952 reprint of the fourth English edition, 1730). The Optical Papers of Isaac Newton: vol. 1, 1670–1672, A.E. Shapiro, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) and The Correspondence of Isaac Newton, vol. 1 (1661–1675), H.W. Turnbull, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University of Press, 1959). The important unpublished document on the color–sound analogy is in the Optical Lectures, p. 546, note 27.Google Scholar
  3. See Richard S. Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press, 1980), p. 274, footnote 106, for his comment on the “shoulder of giants” sentence.Google Scholar
  4. Oppenheimer’s remark about Einstein is from a letter to his brother dated January 11, 1935, see Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections, A.K. Smith and C. Weiner, eds. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 189–191.Google Scholar
  5. In fathoming much of Newton’s optical speculations, I gratefully acknowledge the helpful correspondence with Yaakov Zik, Tel Aviv University.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • David R. Topper
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of WinnipegWinnipegCanada R3B2E9

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