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Dot-age: Newton's Mathematical Legacy in the Eighteenth Century

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image of Early Science and Medicine

According to the received view, eighteenth-century British mathematicians were responsible for a decline of mathematics in the country of Newton; a decline attributed to chauvinism and a preference for geometrical thinking. This paper challenges this view by first describing the complexity of Newton's mathematical heritage and its reception in the early decades of the eighteenth century. A section devoted to Maclaurin's monumental Treatise of Fluxions (1742) describes its attempt to reach a synthesis of the different strands of Newton's mathematical legacy, and compares it with contemporary Continental work. It is shown that in the middle of the eighteenth century academic Continental mathematicians such as Euler and Lagrange were driven by local cultural assumptions in directions which sensibly diverged from the ones followed by Maclaurin and his fellow countrymen.


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