Kinetic Theory: Maxwell's Presuppositions

Part of the Science & Technology Education Library book series (CTISE, volume 36)
The kinetic theory of gases has been the subject of considerable debate and controversy in the history and philosophy of scientific literature (cf. Achinstein, 1987, 1991; Brush, 1976; Clark, 1976; De Regt, 1996; Dorling, 1970; Elkana, 1974; Gavroglu, 1990; Kuhn, 1970a; Lakatos, 1970; Mendoza, 1975; Nyhof, 1988). The starting point of Maxwell's work on the kinetic theory of gases was his reading of the paper by Clausius (1857) entitled: “On the nature of the motion which we call heat” (cf. Garber et al., 1986, p. xix). Similarly, Maxwell (1860) recognizes the work of early kinetic theorists, such as Bernouilli, Herapath, Joule, and Krönig. Besides the influence of the early kinetic theorists, it seems that the work of greatest influence on Maxwell's development of the kinetic theory of gases may well have been the Essays by Adolphe Quetelet on the Theory of Probabilities in the early nineteenth century. Nevertheless, it is important to note that “statistical” for Maxwell in 1860 had the connotation of an emergence of regularity out of the apparently chaotic behavior of large numbers of molecules, which had little to do with its later recognition that the macroscopic gas laws are only probabilistic (cf. Porter, 1981, 1994). The role of presuppositions in the development of the kinetic theory, based on the following aspects, is explored in this chapter:
  1. 1.

    Clausius' simplifying (basic) assumptions

  2. 2.

    Maxwell's simplifying assumptions (presuppositions)

  3. 3.

    A Lakatosian interpretation of Maxwell's research program

  4. 4.

    “Progressive problemshifts” in Maxwell's research program

  5. 5.

    Van der Waals' equation of state: a “progressive problemshift”

  6. 6.

    Kinetic theory and chemical thermodynamics as rival research programs

  7. 7.

    Educational implications of the kinetic molecular theory of gases



Kinetic Theory Hard Core Newtonian Mechanic Chemical Thermodynamic Educational Implication 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

Personalised recommendations