Dictionary of the History of Ideas Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas |

2 |

3 |

9 |

2 | VI. |

V. |

VI. |

3 | I. |

VI. |

2 | V. |

2 | III. |

3 | III. |

2 | VI. |

2 |

1 | VI. |

6 | V. |

3 | V. |

1 | III. |

2 | VII. |

VI. |

1 | VI. |

1 | III. |

III. |

8 | II. |

3 | I. |

2 | I. |

1 | I. |

2 | V. |

1 | VII. |

2 | VI. |

4 | V. |

9 | III. |

4 | III. |

5 | III. |

16 | II. |

2 | I. |

9 | I. |

1 | I. |

1 | VI. |

VII. |

2 | III. |

1 | VII. |

3 | VII. |

2 | VII. |

2 | V. |

VI. |

1 | VI. |

1 | VI. |

2 | VI. |

2 | VI. |

1 | VII. |

III. |

IV. |

10 | VI. |

VI. |

1 | VI. |

1 | V. |

3 | V. |

4 | V. |

10 | III. |

6 | III. |

2 | VII. |

4 | III. |

I. |

7 | V. |

2 | V. |

2 | VII. |

1 | VI. |

5 | I. |

4 | I. |

7 | I. |

8 | I. |

1 | VI. |

12 | III. |

4 | IV. |

4 | III. |

2 | IV. |

1 | IV. |

1 | IV. |

VI. |

1 | VI. |

3 | VI. |

1 | V. |

2 | III. |

1 | VI. |

Dictionary of the History of Ideas | ||

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*I. INTRODUCTION*

The last forty years of the nineteenth century
were

among the most remarkable in the history of science,

for this was
a period of amazing scientific achievements

and contradictions; on the one
hand classical physics

and astronomy were enjoying some of their
greatest

successes during this period, but at the same time

observational and experimental data, which were ulti-

mately to overthrow the classical laws of physics,
were

slowly being collected. Until the year 1860 physics and

astronomy
were dominated by Newton's concepts of

space and time and by his laws of
mechanics and

gravitation; these seemed sufficient to explain observa

tions ranging all the way from the motion of the planets

to the
behavior of the tides on the earth. The great

eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century mathematicians

such as Euler, Laplace, Lagrange,
Hamilton, and

Gauss had cast the Newtonian laws into beautiful and

magnificent mathematical forms which had their

greatest applications to
celestial mechanics. Astrono-

mers happily
used these techniques to show how excel-

lent
was the agreement between observation and the-

ory. The two domains of physics that still lay outside

the Newtonian
laws—electromagnetism and optics—

were also soon to
be incorporated into a satisfying

theoretical structure. In the year 1865,
James Clerk

Maxwell published his famous papers on his electro-

magnetic theory of light, which
gave a precise and

beautiful mathematical formulation of Faraday's ex-

perimental discoveries, unified
electricity, magnetism,

and optics, and opened up the whole field of electro-

magnetic technology.

Thus, at the end of the first decade of the last forty

years of the
nineteenth century, everything seemed to

fall neatly into place in the
world of science. To the

scientists of that period, the universe appeared
to be

a well ordered arrangement of celestial bodies moving

about in
an infinite expanse of absolute space, and with

all the events in the
universe occurring in a unique

and absolute sequence in time. There was no
question

at that time as to the correctness of this Newtonian

universe
based on the concepts of absolute space and

time; only the observational
and experimental details

were lacking to make the picture complete,
and

everyone was confident that, with improved technol-

ogy, these details would be obtained in time.

This absolute concept of the universe and of the laws

of nature was very
satisfying to the late nine-

teenth-century man, who saw in the orderly and abso-

lute scheme of things the demonstration of the
Divine

Omnipotence which he worshipped and which gave

him the reason
for his existence; moreover, the infini-

tude
of space and time required by the Newtonian

universe was also required by
the concept of an in-

finitely powerful
deity, as described by Alexander

Pope:

A hero perish or a sparrow fall;

Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'd;

And now a bubble burst, and now a world.

(*An Essay on Man* III. 87-90)

Dictionary of the History of Ideas | ||