Newton's Rules of Reasoning
Both Bacon and Descartes wanted to provide a firm foundation for scientific thought that avoided the deceptions of the mind and senses. Bacon envisaged that foundation as essentially empirical, whereas Descartes provides a metaphysical foundation for knowledge. If there were any doubts about the direction in which scientific method would develop, they were set to rest by the success of Isaac Newton. Implicitly rejecting Descartes' emphasis on rationalism in favor of Bacon's empirical approach, he outlines his four "rules of reasoning" in the Principia,
- We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.
- Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes.
- The qualities of bodies, which admit neither intension nor remission of degrees, and which are found to belong to all bodies within the reach of our experiments, are to be esteemed the universal qualities of all bodies whatsoever.
- In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions collected by general induction from phænomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses that may be imagined, until such time as other phænomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions.
But Newton also left an admonition about a theory of everything:
To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. 'Tis much better to do a little with certainty, and leave the rest for others that come after you, than to explain all things.
Newton's work became a model that other sciences sought to emulate, and his inductive approach formed the basis for much of natural philosophy through the 18th and early 19th centuries. Some methods of reasoning were later systematized by Mill's Methods (or Mill's canon), which are five explicit statements of what can be discarded and what can be kept while building a hypothesis. George Boole and William Stanley Jevons also wrote on the principles of reasoning.
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