It is well-known that Hooke anticipated Newton's law of gravitation. Was this case grave enough such that Newton today would be called a plagiarist?

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    This might be a better fit over on the history of science and mathematics stack. Nov 19, 2016 at 20:04
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    I have publicly pledged to downvote any question based on "it is well known". Please provide a source and I will reverse my vote.
    – MCW
    Nov 19, 2016 at 22:07
  • "F=ma." You don't need to reference that to know who said it. Sir Isaac Newton. We're still discovering new applications to that simple equation. The other area is...if you wear glasses to see better you can thank Sir Isaac Newton. No one else on the entire Planet was wearing glasses to improve eyesight until he came along. Nov 20, 2016 at 0:49
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    @user14394 wrong again - corrective lenses were being used for hundreds of years before Newton: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasses#History, and it was Kepler who first correctly described how they worked
    – user13123
    Nov 20, 2016 at 4:38
  • You might be right. I'm still unclear how you measure the precise "vision problem" though without Newton. You might have a hundred pair of glasses...which back then since glass was made of seaweed would be VERY expensive...so any measurement technique to precisely show how your vision was off and then only one set of glasses would be very worthwhile knowledge to have. He did invent the modern telescope...so by removing then adding distinct lens you could not only greatly enhance the Captain's skill at seeing at a great distance but you could also give your sailors the gift of sight. Nov 20, 2016 at 5:16

2 Answers 2


No. Several people had the idea of an attractive force, and some of them of an inverse square law. Newton worked the idea out in detail, and showed that it produced results that matched the observations of the solar system: he made gravity into a proper scientific theory, rather than a vague hypothesis.

Wikipedia's article on Hooke has a good account of his contributions to the idea.

  • Gravity BARELY exists...and would not be proven to exist until long after Newton had passed away...and talk about a bear of a problem to solve. The worst sentence in the English language is any one that contains the word "gravity." That word should be banned until we become a multi-planetary species...which we may in fact already be... Nov 20, 2016 at 0:53
  • The indisputable fact is that when Hooke wrote to Newton, he understood the question better than Newton. This is clear from their preserved correspondence.
    – Alex
    Nov 20, 2016 at 1:59
  • That wouldn't surprise me. Nov 20, 2016 at 5:18

The story with Hooke--Newton correspondence was well-known at the time of Newton. Newton consciously belittled Hooke's contribution, against the advise of some friends. He also claimed that he had this idea long before Hooke, and this is probably correct. I do not think anyone would call Newton a plagiarist, but his behavior with respect to several contemporary scientists (Hooke, Flamsteed, Leibniz) was rude and arrogant.

Similar things happen frequently in modern times, when some famous and well recognized person fails to acknowledge contributions of other people with not such high standing. This is not usually qualified as plagiarism.

References. The literature on this particular question is enormous. I recommend

V. Arnold, Huygens and Barrow, Newton and Hooke and

Westfall, Never at rest.

The second one is a classical biography of Newton, probably the most comprehensive one, and not surprisingly, the author explains the story from "Newton's point of view". On my opinion, Arnold sees it more from "Hooke's point of view". (I would like very much if someone wrote the story from Halley's point of view).

So you can compare. But nobody calls Newton "a plagiarist". What he did in Principia is by many orders of magnitude more than all his contemporaries together could possibly do. And nobody denies this. But that he was reluctant to give any credit to anyone is another matter.


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