Newtonian Optics and the Historiography of Light in the 18th Century: A critical Analysis of Joseph Priestley’s The History of Optics

Breno Moura


In 1772, Joseph Priestley published The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light and Colours, also known as The History of Optics. The book intended to present all the achievements in the matter of light and colors, from the Ancient times to the 18th century. This paper presents a study of the content of The History of Optics, in order to analyze how it sold Newtonian optics in the historiography of light. It will comprise discussions on Priestley’s views on History, his involvement with optical studies, his perceptions on Newtonian optics and the Biographical Chart included in the book. This analysis can add new elements for the current Historiography on Priestley, clarifying other aspects that demonstrate his commitment to a Newtonian view of the History of Optics, as well as an example of the prestige that Newton’s Natural Philosophy had throughout the 18th century. 


Joseph Priestley; Isaac Newton; Historiography of Science; Newtonian Optics; Light

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Copyright (c) 2018 Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science

ISSN: 2526-2270

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