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Basically, why did Newton write : "Plato is my friend — Aristotle is my friend — but my greatest friend is truth." ? What were the influences of these two on him ?

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  • $\begingroup$ Some details added to Eremenko's answer : Richard Westfall, Never at rest, page 89 : from a notebook written at Cambridge around 1664 under the heading Questiones quaedam Philosophicae with notes on Descartes and others (but no reference to Plato). $\endgroup$ – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Dec 3 '16 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ The "link" with Plato was indirect, through the Cambridge platonist Henry More. $\endgroup$ – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Dec 3 '16 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @MauroALLEGRANZA. Like all classically educated men of his time Newton would have known his Plato forwards and backwards. There was no need for a "link". $\endgroup$ – fdb Dec 3 '16 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ See A.R.Hall, Sir Isaac Newton's Note-Book, 1661–65 (1948), page 242, footnote 14 : "At the top of the page in a fainter ink is written the tag 'Amicus Plato amicus Aristotelis sed magis amica veritas'. (Fol. 88.)" $\endgroup$ – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Dec 3 '16 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ "Platonism vs Aristotelianism" was a great dispute, even in Newton's age. Newton simply rejects this dilemma. $\endgroup$ – Dávid Horváth Dec 5 '16 at 2:47
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Newton (I assume the attribution is correct) was merely paraphrasing a well-known Latin phrase traditionally ascribed to Plato (though not found in any of Plato's authentic works). Roger Bacon quoted it as: Nam Plato dicit: "Amicus est Socrates, magister meus, sed magis est amica veritas", and Bacon's contemporary Thomas Aquinas cites it in a similar form.

More here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amicus_Plato,_sed_magis_amica_veritas

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It may be perhaps worth to mention that the quote is strongly reminiscent of a passage in Aristotle as well. In the Nicomachean Ethics (Bekker numbering 1096a), we read (transl. Roger Crisp):

ἀμφοῖν γὰρ ὄντοιν φίλοιν ὅσιον προτιμᾶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν.

For one might love both, but it is nevertheless a sacred duty to prefer the truth to one's friends.

Since a similar quote is ascribed to Plato, this may explain why Newton sees fit to reference both philosophers in his own version.

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This he said when he was a student in Cambridge. The cornerstone of "science" education at that time was reading Aristotle. So he started reading Aristotle. But the new ideas were already "in the air". Accidentally Newton looked into Euclid... then Descartes... and started to think about "new science", that is real one, discarding Aristotle as he deserves. Source: Westfall, Never at rest (a standard scientific biography of Newton).

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