Article ID: CBB554615043

The double nature of Maxwell's physical analogies (2021)


Building upon work by Mary Hesse (1974), this paper aims to show that a single method of investigation lies behind Maxwell's use of physical analogies in his major scientific works before the Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Key to understanding the operation of this method is to recognize that Maxwell's physical analogies are intended to possess an ‘inductive’ function in addition to an ‘illustrative’ one. That is to say, they not only serve to clarify the equations proposed for an unfamiliar domain with a working interpretation drawn from a more familiar science, but can also be sources of defeasible yet relatively strong arguments from features of the more familiar domain to features of the less. Compared with the reconstructions by Achinstein (1991), Siegel (1991), Harman (1998) and others, which postulate a discontinuity in Maxwell's approach to physical analogy, the account defended in this paper i) makes sense of the continuity in Maxwell's remarks on scientific methodology, ii) explains his quest for a “mathematical classification of physical quantities” and iii) offers a new and more plausible interpretation of the debated episode of the introduction of the displacement current in Maxwell's “On Physical Lines of Forces”.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Silva, Cibelle Celestino; (2007)
The Role of Models and Analogies in the Electromagnetic Theory: A Historical Case Study (/isis/citation/CBB001032896/)

Article Giora Hon; Bernard R. Goldstein; (2021)
Maxwell's role in turning the concept of model into the methodology of modeling (/isis/citation/CBB799144703/)

Article Cat, Jordi; (2001)
On Understanding: Maxwell on the Methods of Illustration and Scientific Metaphor (/isis/citation/CBB000100733/)

Thesis Lambert, Kevin Thomas; (2005)
Mind over Matter: Language, Mathematics, and Electromagnetism in NineteenthCentury Britain (/isis/citation/CBB001561644/)

Article Vera Hartenstein; Mario Hubert; (2021)
When Fields Are Not Degrees of Freedom (/isis/citation/CBB322806876/)

Article Chalmers, Alan; (2001)
Maxwell, Mechanism, and the Nature of Electricity (/isis/citation/CBB000102533/)

Article Hona, Giora; Goldstein, Bernard R.; (2012)
Maxwell's Contrived Analogy: An Early Version of the Methodology of Modeling (/isis/citation/CBB001211045/)

Book Marinho, José Roberto; (2006)
Estudos de História e Filosofia das Ciências: Subsídios para Aplicação no Ensino (/isis/citation/CBB000820185/)

Book Forbes, Nancy; Mahon, Basil; (2014)
Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics (/isis/citation/CBB001551506/)

Chapter Donatella Marmottini; Raffaele Pisano; (2017)
Nature-of-Science Teaching: notes on the Lagrangian Methods in Maxwell’s Electromagnetic Theory (/isis/citation/CBB808838171/)

Article Brenni, Paolo; (2004)
Mechanical and Hydraulic Models for Illustrating Electromagnetic Phenomena (/isis/citation/CBB000770307/)

Article Stanley, Matthew; (2012)
By Design: James Clerk Maxwell and the Evangelical Unification of Science (/isis/citation/CBB001231540/)

Chapter Martins, Roberto de Andrade; (2005)
Mechanics and Electromagnetism in the Late Nineteenth Century: The Dynamics of Maxwell's Ether (/isis/citation/CBB000651173/)

Authors & Contributors
Martins, Roberto de Andrade
Silva, Cibelle Celestino
Goldstein, Bernard R.
Cat, Jordi
Chalmers, Alan Francis
D'Agostino, Salvatore
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Physics in Perspective
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Science and Education
Philosophy of Science
Pavia University Press
Editora Livraria da Física
Prometheus Books
University of California, Los Angeles
Icon Books
Cambridge University Press
Electricity; magnetism
Models and modeling in science
Methodology of science; scientific method
Philosophy of science
Maxwell, James Clerk
Faraday, Michael
Lorentz, Hendrik Antoon
Lodge, Oliver
Hertz, Heinrich Rudolph
Larmor, Joseph
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
Great Britain

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment