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The Concept of Force in Eighteenth-Century Mechanics

  • Wolfgang Neuser
Chapter
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 136)

Abstract

If one wanted to characterize the general scientific approach of the eighteenth-century by means of a single concept, there would be much to be said for selecting the notion of force. Newton’s Principia (1687) had unified the laws of terrestrial mechanics and planetary motion by propounding a mathematical conception of force applicable in principle within every field of natural philosophy. Discussion of the universal principles and characteristic quantities of motion had entered a new stage as a result of the publication of this book. The plan to extend the application of the conception of mechanical force to the fields of optics and chemistry was explicitly formulated by Newton in his Opticks (1704), and developed into what was to become the general paradigm of Newtonian physics.

Keywords

Centrifugal Force Eighteenth Century Circular Motion Uniform Motion Universal Principle 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Freind and Keill were the most important Newtonians in Britain at that time. See Cassirer, 1974, II, pp. 401ff., 421ff.; cf. Rosenberger, 1895, pp. 342ff., 359ff., Guerlac, 1981, pp. 41-74.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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    Cohen, 1978, p. 48.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See Newton’s use of the term centrifugal in the Principia bk. 1, prop. 4, theor. 4, scholium, the interpretation of this provided by Westfall, 1977, pp. 145-148, and the correct description of the force in Baumgartner, 1829, § 252, p. 193. Böhme, 1988, brings out the importance of the concept of the centrifugal force in Newton’s development of hydrodynamics: see the Principia bk. 2, sect. 5, prop. 23, theor. 18; sect. 7, prop. 33; sect. 7, prop. 33, cor. 3; sect. 7, prop. 33, cor. 6: bk. 3, prop. 4, theor. 4, scholium; prop. 19, prob. 3. In all these cases, Newton treats the centrifugal force as having a component opposed to the centripetal force. Elsewhere, he maintains that the centripetal becomes a centrifugal force when the path changes from a parabola to a hyperbola: bk. 1, prop. 10, prob. 5, scholium; prop. 12, prob. 7.Google Scholar
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  13. 13.
    The new co-ordinates may be x;w is the rotating velocity: f eff = f-2m(w · dx/dt)-mw(w · x). Cf. Goldstein, 1963, p. 149.Google Scholar
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    Leibniz, 1982, p. 13 (1695);’ s Gravesande tried to confirm this by experiments:’ s Gravesande, 1748, pp. xii, xx, xxvf., 229ff., 245ff., and Musschenbroek, 17412. Musschenbroek argued that even a body which is at rest can transfer motion to another body (§ 196, p. 78).Google Scholar
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    Here Leibniz, 1982, refers to Newton’s Principia (1687), from which it can be inferred that the various notions of force are being respected.Google Scholar
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  26. 26.
    The dicussion concerning the impenetrability of matter deserves to be dealt with in more detail. The problem was discussed by Euler, 1773, vol. 1 and, for example, by Hamberger, 1741, §§ 35ff., who says that the impenetrability of matter, as well as its resistence, are induced by the vis insita, which enables the body to move in any direction; § 28 of this work is concerned with the vis inertiae.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Kleinert, 1974.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    In France: Voltaire, 1738; Algarotti, 1745; Fontenelle, 1780; Pluche, 1753ff.; Regnault, 1729-1750; Clairaut, 1747, were important. In Britain: Pemberton, 1728, described planetary motion in an orthodox Newtonian manner, without mentioning centrifugal force; another common description derived from Martin, 1778; Martin’s book was used by Hegel: cf. Neuser, W. 1990b; Hegel DOP; cf. Encyclopedia §§ 245-271; tr. Petry I, 1970. In Germany: Erxleben, 17874 — the main source of the physical knowledge of the late Kant; Euler, 1773 ff., vol. 1. Algarotti’s, Pluche’s and Fontenelle’s books were written in Italian or French and then translated into German, and do not give a very precise account of Newton’s theory of planetary motion. Erxleben sometimes conceives of centrifugal force in the right way (§§ 56, 659), sometimes not (§ 660). Martin confused centrifugal force with the force of inertia. Euler, 1773 ff., 1, provides a clear and instructive discussion of the different aspects of Newtonian and Leibnizian physics.Google Scholar
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  33. 33.
    Châtellet, 1740, §§ 373-376. It is evident from her French translation of Newton’s Principia that she was aware that Newton’s centrifugal force is perpendicular to the tangent of the circle; cf. Châtellet, 1756, I, p. 57; II, p. 15; II, p. 35.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Châtellet, 1740, § 357.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Winkler, 1754, p. 8, § 92.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Gehler, 1787, vol. 1, pp. 487ff; 494; cf. 1787, vol. 5, p. 194 below. In modern textbooks of experimental physics one still finds this interpretation: Gerthsen and Kneser, 1969, p. 16; Westphal, 1970, p. 68. Bergmann and Schäfer, 1970, vol. 1, pp. 115ff.Google Scholar
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    Maupertuis, 1753, pp. 38-42; cf. Lagrange, 1797.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Zedler, 1737, unwittingly provides an instructive example of the confusion of Newtonian and Leibnizian physics in the article on force; he describes all types of forces as dead or living, but refers only to Newton’s force of inertia (pp. 1681, 1691ff., 1691ff.), not to that of Leibniz; cf. Iltis, 1971, pp. 21-35; Laudan, 1968, pp. 131-143.Google Scholar
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    Boscovich, 1758, pp. xii, xiv, xvi, 35.Google Scholar
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    Gren, 1788, provides an excellent discussion of these problems, cf. Adickes, 1924, vol. 1, p. 171.Google Scholar
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    Helmholtz, 1983, p. 16.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

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  • Wolfgang Neuser

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