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The Newtonianisation of Holland : Petrus van Musschenbroek (1692-1761) as educator

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Abstract

The Dutch Republic played an important role in the dissemination of Newton’s philosophy. There, it found its earliest proponents, who were instrumental in the spread of the Newton’s ideas on the continent. One of these figures was Petrus van Musschenbroek (1692-1761), who during his life took up professorships at the universities of Utrecht and Leiden. In a letter to Newton written at the beginning of his academic career, Musschenbroek explicitly stated that it was his aim to spread the ‘Newtonian philosophy’ in the university, and from there to the rest of Dutch society. In this paper, I focus on Musschenbroek’s activities in the context of the university. First, I analyse Musschenbroek’s defence of the ‘Newtonian philosophy’ in several of his academic orations. I show how Musschenbroek implicitly uses a certain view on the institution of the university and its tasks as a leverage in his defence of the ‘Newtonian philosophy’. Secondly, I analyse the content and organisation of Musschenbroek’s textbooks in the light of the common practices of education at the university. Here, I show how on the one hand Musschenbroek adapted the content and organisation of his material to comply to certain pedagogical traditions, but on the other hand also made pedagogical innovations necessitated by the nature of the ‘new philosophy’. Taken together, this paper hopes to show the challenges that Musschenbroek was confronted with in his attempt to implement the ‘Newtonian philosophy’ in the university, and the way he overcame (some of) them.

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