In his A defence of free-thinking in mathematics. In answer to a pamphlet of Philalethes Cantabrigiensis, intituled, Geometry no friend to infidelity , George Berkeley challenges what he considers the idolatry of Isaac Newton that he finds in some of his contemporaries. He admires Newton’s genius, but refuses to bow. Along the way, he becomes an early sociologist of science:

“In my opinion the greatest men have their Prejudices. Men learn the elements of Science from others: And every learner hath a deference more or less to authority, especially the young learners, few of that kind caring to dwell long upon Principles, but inclining rather to take them upon trust: And things early admitted by repetition become familiar: And this familiarity at length passeth for Evidence. Now to me it seems, there are certain points tacitly admitted by Mathematicians, which are neither evident nor true. And such points or principles ever mixing with their reasonings do lead them into paradoxes and perplexities . . . . And if by vertue of some latent errour in his principles a man be drawn into fallacious reasonings, it is nothing strange that he should take them for true: And, nevertheless, if, when urged by perplexities and uncouth consequences, and driven to arts and shifts, he should entertain some doubt thereof, it is no more than one may naturally suppose, might befall a great genius grappling with an insuperable difficulty.”

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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