Weber and Maxwell on the Discovery of the Velocity of Light in Nineteenth Century Electrodynamics

  • Salvo D’Agostino
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 34)


In 1846 Wilhelm Weber (1804–1891) discovered that a characteristic velocity, almost equal to the velocity of light, was a significant constant in the theory of electrodynamics. James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1874) accepted this discovery within his theory of the electromagnetic field (1861–62) and used it as important evidence for his electromagnetic theory of light. This is interesting for a number of reasons.


Characteristic Velocity Electric Force Electromagnetic Theory Empirical Content Electrodynamic System 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Kenneth F. Schaffner ‘Outlines of a Logic of Comparative Theory Evaluation with Special Attention to Pre- and Post Relativistic Electrodynamics’, in R. Stuewer (ed.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 5 (University of Minnesota Press, 1970 ), pp. 311 - 351.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W. Weber ‘Elektrodynamische Massbestimmungen uber ein allgemeines Grundgesetz der elektrischen Wirkung’, in W. Weber’s Werke (Berlin, 1893), Vol. 3, pp. 25–211. K. H. Wiederkehr, Wilhelm Edward Weber, Erforscher der Wellenbewegung und der Elektricitat (Wiss. Verlagsges., Stuttgart, 1967 ).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    E. Whittaker, A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity (Nelson, London, 1951), 2 vols., Vol. 1, p. 201. Salvo D’Agostino. Whittaker, A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity (Nelson, London, 1951), 2 vols., Vol. 1, p. 201. Salvo D’Agostino, ‘La scoperta di una velocity quasi uguale alia velocitk della luce nell’elettrodinamica di W. Weber (1804-1891)’, Physis 3-4 (1976), 297–318.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    W. Weber and R. Kohlrausch, ‘Ueber die Elektricitatsmenge, welche bei galvanischenStromen durch den Querschnitt der Kette fliesst’ (1856), Weber, op. cit., pp. 597–608; Wiederkehr, op. cit., pp. 140, 141; D’Agostino, op. cit., p. 309.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    R. Sviedrys, ‘Physical Laboratories in Britain’, in Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences, Vol. 7, pp. 405–436, p. 425. S. D’Agostino ‘Esperimento e teoria nell’opera di Maxwell’, Scientia 113 (1978), 453–467, p. 454. Also: D’Agostino ‘Experiment and Theory in Maxwell’s Work’ (English Translation), ibid.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    J. C. Maxwell, A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, 3rd ed. Preliminary, Sections 1-6; also Sections 620–628.Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    A. Sommerfeld, Physikalische Zeitschrift 36 (1935), 814, 820; D’Agostino, ‘Esperimento e teoria’, p. 463.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    Henry Margenau, The Nature of Physical Reality (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1950), especially: Chapters 6,7.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Mario Bunge, Philosophy of Physics (Reidel, Dordrecht, 1973), pp. 39–179.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Salvo D’Agostino

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