Chapter

The Science of Work

in When Physics Became King

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780226542010
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226542003 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226542003.003.0005
The Science of Work

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The nineteenth-century science of work developed in different ways in different contexts. Natural philosophers in England, France, the German lands, and Scotland had a range of interests and concerns. The Industrial Revolution in England and Scotland had already resulted in massive and continuing changes to the cultural (and physical) landscape of the two countries. Similar processes were under way in France and the German lands by the second quarter of the century. One outcome of this was to focus philosophical and practical attention on the problem of work—its origins and the ways of maximizing its output. British natural philosophers in particular were keen to emphasize the cosmological role of the science of work. They saw the second law of thermodynamics in particular as playing a central role in making the universe progressive. It was to be understood as a grand principle of dissipation that showed how the universe was gradually progressing as energy became dissipated and no longer available for conversion into useful work. Making common ground among physicists from different cultures and backgrounds as to what the science of work really was itself required work. It could have important implications not just for understanding the steam engine, or even understanding the universe, but for understanding the nature of knowledge itself. As disputes between German and British pioneers and their supporters demonstrated in particular, agreement as to who the discoverers of thermodynamics were first of all required agreement as to just what the science of thermodynamics was.

Keywords: thermodynamics; sciences; philosophers; physicists; philosophies; physics

Chapter.  12908 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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