Thesis ID: CBB001560501

Equilibrium and Explanation in 18th-Century Mechanics (2007)


Hepburn, Brian S. (Author)

University of Pittsburgh
Machamer, Peter K.

Publication Date: 2007
Edition Details: Advisor: Machamer, Peter K.
Physical Details: 141 pp.
Language: English

The received view of the Scientific Revolution is that it was completed with the publication of Isaac Newton's (1642-1727) Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. Work on mechanics in the century or more following was thought to be merely filling in the mathematical details of Newton's program, in particular of translating his mechanics from its synthetic expression into analytic form. I show that the mechanics of Leonhard Euler (1707-1782) and Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1736-1813) did not begin with Newton's Three Laws. They provided their own beginning principles and interpretations of the relation between mathematical description and nature. Functional relations among the quantified properties of bodies were interpreted as basic mechanical connections between those bodies. Equilibrium played an important role in explaining the behavior of physical systems understood mechanically. Some behavior was revealed to be an equilibrium condition; other behavior was understood as a variation from equilibrium. Implications for scientific explanation are then drawn from these historical considerations, specifically an alternative account of mechanical explanation and unification. Trying to cast mechanical explanations (of the kind considered here) as Kitcher-style argument schema fails to distinguish legitimate from spurious explanations. Consideration of the mechanical analogies lying behind the schema are required.


Description With a focus on the work of Lagrange, Euler, and Newton. Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 68/09 (2008). Pub. no. AAT 3284573.

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Authors & Contributors
Pulte, Helmut
Maltese, Giulio
Assayag, Gérard
Rodrigues, José Francisco
Feichtinger, Hans Georg
Nakata, Ryoichi
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
European Physical Journal H
Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
科学史研究 Kagakusi Kenkyu (History of Science)
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Leo S. Olschki
University of Chicago Press
Motion (physical)
Euler, Leonhard
Newton, Isaac
Lagrange, Joseph Louis
Kant, Immanuel
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von
Maupertuis, Pierre Louis Moreau de
Time Periods
18th century
17th century
19th century
20th century
Académie des Sciences, Paris

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