Source: Official Guide Revised GRE 1st Ed. Part 8; Section 4; #8


Which of the following statements about Voltaire’s Elements

Which of the following statements about Voltaire’s Elements of the Philosophy of Newton can be inferred from the passage? Elements of the Philosophy of Newton, published by Voltaire in 1738, was an early attempt to popularize the scientific ideas of Isaac Newton. In the book’s frontispiece, Voltaire is seen writing at his desk, and over him a shaft of light from heaven, the light of truth, passes through Newton to Voltaire’s collaborator Madame du Châtelet; she reflects that light onto the inspired Voltaire. Voltaire’s book commanded a wide audience, according to Feingold, because “he was neither a mathematician nor a physicist, but a literary giant aloof from the academic disputes over Newtonian ideas.” In other words, Voltaire’s amateurism in science “was a source of his contemporary appeal, demonstrating for the first time the accessibility of Newton’s ideas to nonspecialists.” Voltaire’s literary stature helped secure a large audience for this attempt to popularize Newton’s ideas., Voltaire’s status as a nonscientist was an advantage in this effort to bring Newtonian science to the attention of the general public., The frontispiece of the book implies that Voltaire’s understanding of Newton’s ideas was not achieved without assistance.

2 Explanations


Jacob Elder

I'm confused on why C is a correct answer. I feel like a running theme throughout a lot of GRE problems is not to be too presumptuous on questions. Meanwhile, C says, "The frontispiece of the book implies that Voltaire's understanding of Newton's ideas was not achieved without assistance." It seems odd this is correct as I don't perceive having a collaborator as an indication that an author didn't necessarily understand the material otherwise. People can collaborate with others for reason other than assisting in an understanding of content, and nowhere in the text does it explicitly state that Voltaire needed Madame du Chatelet's assistance in understanding the ideas.

Jan 22, 2016 • Comment


Hi Jacob,

There are a couple of reasons we can infer that Voltaire would not have been able to understand the ideas without Madame du Châtelet.

The first is that we are told that the light that she reflects onto Voltaire represents the "light of truth." This indicates that Madame du Châtelet's work with Voltaire is not one of mere aesthetic collaboration, but has to do with the very content of Voltaire's work.

The second is that Voltaire "was neither a mathematician nor a physicist" and that he was a scientific amateur. Both of these statements point strongly to the notion that Voltaire would not have been able to understand Newton's ideas on his own.

Now, the answer choice does ask specifically about the frontispiece, but we are given more background info about Voltaire that supports C. Combined with this information, the frontispiece image strongly *implies* (it doesn't *prove*, but it does imply) that Voltaire needed help understanding Newton's work.

Jan 25, 2016 • Reply


Doesn't the passage say that Newton's ideas were accessible to someone without a math/physics background? So it would not have mattered that Voltaire wasn't a mathematician or physicist.

Nov 4, 2017 • Reply



First, the passage says that people who read Voltaire's book could understand Newton's ideas, not that anyone could understand Newton's ideas directly, without Voltaire's book.

Second, I've actually addressed this question above in reply to Jacob Elder; please see my comment, which concerns the specific wording of the question and the frontispiece of the book.

Nov 9, 2017 • Reply


Gravatar Chris Lele, Magoosh Tutor

Oct 10, 2012 • Comment

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