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Mechanistic Images in Geometric FormHeinrich Hertz's 'Principles of Mechanics'$
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Jesper Lützen

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780198567370

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198567370.001.0001

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Problematization of the concept of force

Problematization of the concept of force

(p.40) 4 Problematization of the concept of force
Mechanistic Images in Geometric Form


Oxford University Press

The most remarkable feature of the physical content of Heinrich Hertz's book Principles of Mechanics is that it is a mechanics without forces. The concept of force and, in particular, of gravitation acting at a distance was introduced by Isaac Newton. This was strongly criticised by the Cartesians who argued that all interactions could and should be explained in terms of contact forces. Hertz's view of the relation between the concept of force and the concept of constraint was a total reversal of that of Siméon-Denis Poisson and William Rowan Hamilton. According to Hertz, connections are the physically primary concept and forces are only derived idealized epiphenomena. This reversal was part of a larger rejection of Laplacian physics. This chapter also discusses James Clerk Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism, distance forces, arguments against atomism, and the emergence of energetics as an alternative to an atomistic, force-based mechanical conception of physics.

Keywords:   force, physics, James Clerk Maxwell, electromagnetism, mechanics, atomism, energetics, gravitation, distance forces

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