Isaac Newton - His Life and Times

Ref: C3741421

This course explores Isaac Newton's life and works, and the personal convictions that drove his mathematical philosophy and his unorthodox research into alchemy, theology and biblical prophecy. It will cover: • A brief review of pre-Newtonian (early 17th century) science (particularly the astronomical discoveries and theories of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler, and the mathematics and scientific philosophy of Descartes) • Newton’s early life in Lincolnshire • His studies and rapid advancement at Cambridge University • His (so-called) "Anni Mirabili" - the “miracle years” of 1664-66 • His mathematical achievements, his experiments with light and the development of his laws of motion • Newton’s ascendancy to the peak of status and honours • His disputes with prominent scientists of the day (Liebniz, Hooke and Huygens) • His alchemical and theological obsessions • The Principia Mathematica (1687) and other published works • Newton’s scientific legacy and cultural impact

Additional information about this course


Course aim

This course provides an understanding of the historical context of Isaac Newton’s life and works, and the driving forces behind his scientific, alchemic and theological works.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Identify the key events in Newton’s life
  • Discuss the impact of Newton’s scientific discoveries (1) within the historical context of the Scientific Revolution and (2) on the science of today
  • Discuss the extent to which Occult Sciences (alchemy) and Theological Studies occupied Newton’s life and written works
  • Analyse Newton’s legacy today

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • You may be asked to undertake additional work in your own time to support your learning
  • Suggested readings will be provided at each session (these are not mandatory however).

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will be encouraged to share your work with the group and discuss your learning
  • You will be encouraged to consider other students work and give your opinions and suggestions

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No specific reading required, although the following works provide useful background or reference reading: Richard S Westfall, "Never at Rest – a Biography of Isaac Newton" CUP 1980 James Gleick "Isaac Newton" 4th Estate 2003

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Consider introductory courses in more general History of Science subjects. Learners could undertake a visit to Woolsthorpe Manor, Newton’s family home.

Download full Course information sheet

Isaac Newton - His Life and Times


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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