Lewis Ashman

Thesis title: Newtonianism in Enlightenment Scotland


I grew up in Glasgow and began university life as a student on the Physics with Astrophysics course at the University of Glasgow before switching focus from natural science to humanities and the social sciences, eventually graduating with a joint degree in Economic and Social History and Politics in 2012. From there I found my way on to the Intellectual History MSc programme at the University of Edinburgh, where I wrote a dissertation on Thomas Reid's Newtonianism – in some way bringing my disparate academic interests together. In 2019, after some years away from academia via London and Copenhagen, I began my PhD on Newtonianism in Enlightenment Scotland.



  • (MSc) Intellectual History, University of Edinburgh, 2012–13 (Distinction)
  • (MA Hons) Economic and Social History and Politics, University of Glasgow, 2008–12 (1st)


Research summary

My PhD project is looking at the reception of the ideas and theories of Isaac Newton in Scotland. My intention is to investigate a period stretching from the earliest public Newtonian theory, Newton's 'New theory about light and colors' presented to the Royal Society in 1672, until the early nineteenth century, the traditional end-point of the Scottish Enlightenment. My research examines how Scottish thinkers of the period conceived of Newton's ideas and treated his contributions to knowledge, and it aims to demonstrate both the pluriform nature of 'Newtonianism' and how treatments of Newton changed over time. My approach is to question what 'Newtonian' might have meant in Enlightenment Scotland in order to gain insight into a series of debates on a range of topics across the spectrum of Scottish Enlightenment thought. I hope my research is able to shed greater light on the standard narrative that tells of 'Newtonianism' replacing 'Cartesianism' in the late seventeenth century and subsequently serving as the dominant scientific paradigm in Scotland.