The Fortunes of a Mechanical Model for Natural Philosophy

Stephen Gaukroger

in The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199594931
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595745 | DOI:
The Fortunes of a Mechanical Model for Natural Philosophy

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The basic assumption of ‘rational mechanics’ was that all natural philosophy was mechanics, and that, as mechanics was pursued with greater and greater detail and sophistication, the rest of natural philosophy would fall into place around it. The guiding idea, from Varignon and Hermann at the beginning of the eighteenth century, up to d'Alembert and Euler in mid‐century, was that mechanics could be pursued independently of other natural‐philosophical considerations, that it was the one absolutely secure physical discipline because of its mathematical (and effectively a priori) standing. The chapter explores the rational mechanics of d'Alembert and Euler, and questions whether what was proposed in fact had an a priori standing, and whether it was plausible to assume that recalcitrant phenomena such as the refraction of light, the behaviour of fluids, and gravitation could be accounted for by mechanics.

Keywords: rational mechanics; Pierre Varignon; Jean d'Alembert; Leonhard Euler; force; gravity; refraction

Chapter.  18420 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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