Beyond Newton and on to Berlin

in The Man Who Flattened the Earth

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2002 | ISBN: 9780226793603
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226793627 | DOI:
Beyond Newton and on to Berlin

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The narrative of this story next moves to the efforts of Maupertuis to establish a name for himself as more than a Newtonian, as an original thinker in his own right. He turned to statics, optics, and finally dynamics, and argued for a new general principle, which he dubbed the principle of least action. As he deployed it, this economy principle functioned both metaphysically and mechanically, encompassing the accepted laws of motion. However, this work initially elicited very little reaction from the Paris Academy. As it happened, this was the moment when Frederick called Maupertuis to Berlin. This chapter unravels the tangled strands of motivations and interests at play in the negotiations that finally resulted in his move to Prussia. Maupertuis took the opportunity to reflect on the utility of general principles for the practice of physics, a concern on which he would expend considerable energy in the years to come.

Keywords: Maupertuis; Paris academy; Newton; Berlin; economy principle

Chapter.  12623 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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