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This article is about the mathematical concept. For other uses, see Fluxion (disambiguation).

Fluxion was the term used by Isaac Newton to describe his form of a derivative with respect to time. Fluxions are the instantaneous rate of change of a "fluent" (a time-varying quantity, or function). Newton introduced the concept in 1665 and detailed them his mathematical treatise, Method of Fluxions.[1] Fluxions and fluents made up Newton's early calculus.[2]


Fluxions were central to the Leibniz–Newton calculus controversy, when Newton sent a letter to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz explaining them, but concealing his words in code due to his suspicion. He wrote:[3]

I cannot proceed with the explanations of the fluxions now, I have preferred to conceal it thus: 6accdæ13eff7i319n4o4qrr4s8t12vz

The gibberish string was in fact an enciphered Latin phrase, meaning: "Given an equation that consists of any number of flowing quantities, to find the fluxions: and vice versa".[4]


If the fluent is defined as (where is time) the fluxion (derivative) at is:

Here is an infinitely small amount of time [5] and according to Newton, we can now ignore it because of its infinite smallness. He justified the use of as a non-zero quantity by stating that fluxions were a consequence of movement by an object.


Bishop George Berkeley, a prominent philosopher of the time, slammed Newton's fluxions in his essay The Analyst, published in 1734.[6] Berkeley refused to believe that they were accurate because of the use of the infinitesimal . He did not believe it could be ignored and pointed out that if it was zero, the consequence would be division by zero. Berkeley referred to them as "ghosts of departed quantities", a statement which unnerved mathematicians of the time and led to the eventual disuse of infinitesimals in calculus.

Towards the end of his life Newton revised his interpretation of as infinitely small, preferring to define it as approaching zero, using a similar definition to the concept of limit.[7] He believed this put fluxions back on safe ground. By this time, Leibniz's derivative (and his notation) had largerly replaced Newton's fluxions and fluents and remain in use today.


  1. ^ Weisstein, Eric W. "Fluxion". MathWorld. 
  2. ^ Fluxion at Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Turnbull, Isaac Newton. Ed. by H.W. (2008). The correspondence of Isaac Newton (Digitally printed version, pbk. re-issue. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Univ. Press. ISBN 9780521737821. 
  4. ^ Clegg, Brian (2003). A brief history of infinity: the quest to think the unthinkable. London: Constable. ISBN 9781841196503. 
  5. ^ Buckmire, Ron. "History of Mathematics" (PDF). Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  6. ^ Berkeley, George (1734). Wikisource link to The Analyst: a Discourse addressed to an Infidel Mathematician. London: Wikisource. p. 25. 
  7. ^ Kitcher, Philip (March 1973). "Fluxions, Limits, and Infinite Littlenesse. A Study of Newton's Presentation of the Calculus". Isis. 64 (1): 33–49. doi:10.1086/351042.