on Maxwell

"The traditional term 'natural philosopher' may be aptly applied to a scientist who was also a scholar, deeply conscious of the historical roots and philosophical import of his physics." - Harman

"Around 1850 the science of physics came to be defined in terms of the unifying role of the concept of energy and the programme of mechanical explanation. Quantification, the search for mathematical laws, and precision measurement, the attainment of accurate values in experimentation, came to be seen as normative in physical science." (Harman 3)

[Remember the two pivotal statements Rynasiewicz made about history of science: 1. There is no philosophy of science without a history of science; 2. If you want to study history, there are three central texts that must be read (and to which almost all other historical texts refer): Ptolemy's Almagest, Newton's Principia, and Maxwell's Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.]

"Maxwell urged caution in accepting claims that science could alone provide intellectual enlightenment. He pointed to the unexamined assumptions that lay behind the optimism voiced in the rhetoric of some of his contemporaries, which looked to a clerisy of scientists to rebut obscurantism and establish a scientific and secular enlightenment...Maxwell rejects the hubris of 'a supposed acquaintance with the conditions of Divine foreknowledge'; there are boundaries to scientific knowledge." (Harman 12)

"Forbes' allusion to Descartes prompted Maxwell to study with critical attention the ovals in Descartes' Geometrie."

"In his Theorie des Fonctions Analtiques (1797) Lagrange took the derivative (rather than the differential) as the fundamental concept of analysis, defining the derivatives of a function as the coefficients of the terms in its expansion as a Taylor series...[George Peacock] declared that 'Taylor's Theorem...exhibits the whole theory of the Differential Calculus'. " (Harman 22)

"The dimmed outlines of phenomenal things all merge into another unless we put on the focussing glass of theory and screw it up sometimes to one pitch of definition, and sometimes to another, so as to see down into different depths through the great millstone of the world" - Maxwell, from 'Analogies in Nature'
Written on March 21, 2009