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Vickers, P (2009). Was Newtonian Cosmology Really Inconsistent? Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40(3): 197-208.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper follows up a debate as to the consistency of Newtonian cosmology. Whereas Malament [(1995). Is Newtonian cosmology really inconsistent? Philosophy of Science 62, 489–510] has shown that Newtonian cosmology is not inconsistent, to date there has been no analysis of Norton's claim [(1995). The force of Newtonian cosmology: Acceleration is relative. Philosophy of Science 62, 511–522.] that Newtonian cosmology was inconsistent prior to certain advances in the 1930s, and in particular prior to Seeliger's seminal paper of Seeliger [(1895). Über das Newton'sche Gravitationsgesetz. Astronomische Nachrichten 137 (3273), 129–136.] In this paper I agree that there are assumptions, Newtonian and cosmological in character, and relevant to the real history of science, which are inconsistent. But there are some important corrections to make to Norton's account. Here I display for the first time the inconsistencies—four in total—in all their detail. Although this extra detail shows there to be several different inconsistencies, it also goes some way towards explaining why they went unnoticed for 200 years.