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The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of SensibilityScience and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680-1760$
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Stephen Gaukroger

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199594931

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199594931.001.0001

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The Fortunes of a Mechanical Model for Natural Philosophy

The Fortunes of a Mechanical Model for Natural Philosophy

Chapter:
(p.293) 8 The Fortunes of a Mechanical Model for Natural Philosophy
Source:
The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility
Author(s):

Stephen Gaukroger (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199594931.003.0009

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

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