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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index N > Sir Isaac Newton Quotes > Matter

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Sir Isaac Newton
(25 Dec 1642 - 20 Mar 1727)

English physicist and mathematician who made seminal discoveries in several areas of science, and was the leading scientist of his era.



And for rejecting such a Medium, we have the Authority of those the oldest and most celebrated Philosophers of Greece and Phoenicia, who made a Vacuum, and Atoms, and the Gravity of Atoms, the first Principles of their Philosophy; tacitly attributing Gravity to some other Cause than dense Matter. Later Philosophers banish the Consideration of such a Cause out of natural Philosophy, feigning Hypotheses for explaining all things mechanically, and referring other Causes to Metaphysicks: Whereas the main Business of natural Philosophy is to argue from Phaenomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects, till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these and such like Questions. What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? Whence is it that Nature doth nothing in vain; and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World? ... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself.
— Sir Isaac Newton
In Opticks, (1704, 2nd. Ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 28, 343-5. Newton’s reference to “Nature does nothing in vain” recalls the axiom from Aristotle, which may be seen as “Natura nihil agit frustra” in the Aristotle Quotes on this web site.
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Inherent force of matter is the power of resisting by which every body, so far as it is able, perseveres in its state either of resting or of moving uniformly straight forward.
— Sir Isaac Newton
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Definition 3, 404.
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It is inconceivable, that inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of something else, which is not material, operate upon and affect other matter without mutual contact … That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an agent, acting constantly according to certain laws; but whether this agent be material or immaterial, I have left to the consideration of my readers.
— Sir Isaac Newton
Third letter to Bentley, 25 Feb 1693. Quoted in The Works of Richard Bentley, D.D. (1838), Vol. 3, 212-3.
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It seems probable to me that God, in the beginning, formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles, of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportions to space, as most conduced to the end for which He formed them; and that these primitive particles, being solids, are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them, even so very hard as never to wear or break in pieces; no ordinary power being able to divide what God had made one in the first creation.
— Sir Isaac Newton
From Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 375-376.
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Thus far I have explained the phenomena of the heavens and of our sea by the force of gravity, but I have not yet assigned a cause to gravity. Indeed, this force arises from some cause that penetrates as far as the centers of the sun and planets without any diminution of its power to act, and that acts not in proportion to the quantity of the surfaces of the particles on which it acts (as mechanical causes are wont to do) but in proportion to the quantity of solid matter, and whose action is extended everywhere to immense distances, always decreasing as the squares of the distances.
— Sir Isaac Newton
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), 3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), General Scholium, 943.
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You sometimes speak of gravity as essential and inherent to matter. Pray do not ascribe that notion to me, for the cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know, and therefore would take more time to consider of it.
— Sir Isaac Newton
Letter to Dr. Bentley (17 Jan 1692). In Four Letters from Sir Isaac Newton to Doctor Bentley (1756), 20.
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See also:
  • 25 Dec - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Newton's birth.
  • Isaac Newton - biography from Famous Men of Science (1889)
  • Isaac Newton - Comments on his “Playing on the Seashore” Quote
  • Isaac Newton - “Playing on the Seashore” illustrated quote - Medium 500px.
  • Isaac Newton - “Playing on the Seashore” illustrated quote - Large 800px.
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “A change in motion” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “A change in motion” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “In experimental philosophy” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “In experimental philosophy” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Standing on the shoulders of giants” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Standing on the shoulders of giants” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Impressed force is the action” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Impressed force is the action” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Inherent force of matter is the power of resisting…” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Inherent force of matter is the power of resisting…” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Plato is my friend” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Plato is my friend” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Colours which appear through the Prism ” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Colours which appear through the Prism ” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Nature does nothing in vain” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Nature does nothing in vain” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “No more causes of natural things should be admitted” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “No more causes of natural things should be admitted” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “God, in the beginning, formed matter” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “God, in the beginning, formed matter” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “The cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Isaac Newton - context of quote “The cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Sir Isaac Newton’s Apple-Tree - debunking the myth, from Historic Ninepins: A Book of Curiosities by John Timbs (1869)
  • Newton and the Dog - debunking the myth about Newton’s dog Diamond.
  • Booklist for Isaac Newton.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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