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The Reception of Newton's Gravitational Theory by Huygens, Varignon, and Maupertuis: How Normal Science may be Revolutionary

This paper first discusses the current historical and philosophical framework forged during the last century to account for both the history and the epistemic status of Newton's theory of general gravitation. It then examines the conflict surrounding this theory at the close of the seventeenth century and the first steps towards the revolutionary shift in rational mechanics in the eighteenth century. From a historical point of view, it shows the crucial contribution of the Cartesian mechanistic philosophy and Leibnizian analytic methods to the emergence of so-called Newtonian mechanics which can also be fairly characterized as a synthetic theory of attraction. From a philosophical standpoint, the paper suggests that the reworking of Newton's theory in the 18th century is better understood in a theoretical framework that reconciles Kuhn's notion of "invisible revolution" rather than his notion of "normal science" with Whewell's ascription of the completion of dynamical studies to the post Newtonian period.