Ditton was born at Salisbury. He studied theology, and was for some years a dissenting minister at Tonbridge, but on the death of his father he devoted himself to the congenial study of mathematics. Through the influence of Isaac Newton he was elected mathematical master in Christ's Hospital.
He was author of the following memoirs and treatises:
- Of the Tangents of Curves, published in Philosophical Transactions vol. xxiii;
- A Treatise on Spherical Catoptrics, published in the Phil. Trans. vol. xxiv, from which it was reprinted in the Acta Eruditorum (1707), and also in the Memoirs of the Academy of Sciences at Paris;
- General Laws of Nature and Motion (1705), a work which was commended by Wolfius as illustrating and rendering easier the writings of Galileo Galilei and Christiaan Huygens, and
- Principia of Newton; An Institution of Fluxions, containing the First Principles, Operations, and Applications of that admirable Method, as invented by Sir Isaac Newton (1706).
In 1709 he published the Synopsis Algebraica of John Alexander, with additions and corrections. In his Treatise on Perspective (1712) he explained his mathematical principles; and anticipated the method afterwards elaborated by Brook Taylor.
In 1714 Ditton published his Discourse on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and The New Law of Fluids, or a Discourse concerning the Ascent of Liquids in exact Geometrical Figures, between two nearly contiguous Surfaces. To this was annexed a tract ("Matter not a Cogitative Substance") to demonstrate the impossibility of thinking or perception being the result of any combination of the parts of matter and motion.
Humphry Ditton and William Whiston wrote a book, called A new method for discovering the longitude both at sea and land, concerning a method for discovering the longitude, which it seems they had published about half a year earlier. Although the method had been approved by Newton before being presented to the Board of Longitude, and successfully practised in finding the longitude between Paris and Vienna, the board determined against it. Jonathan Swift wrote mockingly about this plan.
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- A new method for discovering the longitude both at sea and land: humbly proposed to the consideration of the publick. By William Whiston, ... and Humphry Ditton, ... - Eighteen century collections online
- Jonathan Swift, "Ode, to Musick. On the Longitude." 1714.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ditton, Humphry". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.