Marcus Marci’s Investigations of the Prism and their Relation to Newton’s Theory of Color [1932c]

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 21)


The Prague doctor and naturalist Marcus Marci1 has been frequently cited as a predecessor of Newton in establishing the physical theory of color; he recognized namely that (1) different refractions uniquely correspond to the different colored rays produced by a prism; (2) the monochromatic rays so defined maintain their color unchanged under further refraction: two propositions which in fact form an essential part of the Newtonian theory of color. Now, naturally, this last assertion is correct as far as it goes; however I would not take it as proper to hold Marci up as Newton’s predecessor merely on the basis of this fact. For, completely apart from the question of whether or not Newton was acquainted with Marci’s arguments, the history of physics should not be comprehended as a mere chronological stringing together of isolated discoveries, but rather the main emphasis should be placed on the logical connections between the individual steps which contribute to the development of a physical theory. In order to judge whether, from this standpoint, a given theory can be designated as a predecessor of another, more complete, theory, the following question must above all be decided: Does an extension and modification, in keeping with their meaning, of the essential categories suffice for arriving at the second theory from the first; or is a complete rejection of the basic concept of the first theory required? Only in the first case could one speak of an historical connection. In this sense, for example, Galileian mechanics would be a predecessor of Newtonian mechanics and this latter in turn a predecessor of Einsteinian mechanics; or the older quantum theory would also be a forerunner of modern quantum mechanics.


Colored Light Logical Connection Newtonian Theory Crystal Ball Spectral Color 
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  1. 1.
    See E. Hoppe., Archiv für Geschlihte der Mathematik 10 (1927). 282. A portrait of Marci is found in E. Mach’s Mechanik, 8th edition (Leipzig 1921). p 311. [See English transl, of the 9th German edition by T. J. McCormack, The Science of Mechanics (Open Court. La Salle, III., I960), p. 396 — Ed]Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See e.g. L. Rosenfeld, Isis 11 (1928), 116.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See L. Rosenfeld., Isis 9 (1927). 44 (This volume, p. 16.)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Thaumantias, Liber dc arcu coelesti deque colorum apparentium natura, ortu ct causis… [Book on the rainbow and the nature, origin and causcs of its apparent colors…] Authore Joanne Marco Marci (Prague, Typis Academicis. 1648).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    He always places the prism in relation to the broad light beam in such a way that two (mirror-image) spectra are cast.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Moreover he explicitly distinguishes only four kinds of color. But Newton, too. indulged in speculations about a finite color scale; although, on the other hand, he rigorously formulated the physical continuity of the spectrum.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    What is striking about Marci is the absence of any ability to abstract or generalize: here the essential identity of the lens and prism escape him. In his investigations of collisions, he correctly discussed many special eases but did not arrive at the general law of collisions.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel

There are no affiliations available

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