From anomaly to fundament: Louis Poinsotʼs theories of the couple in mechanics

Abstract

In 1803 Louis Poinsot published a textbook on statics, in which he made clear that the subject dealt not only with forces but also with 'couples' (his word), pairs of coplanar non-collinear forces equal in magnitude and direction but opposite in sense. His innovation was not understood or even welcomed by some contemporary mathematicians. Later he adapted his theory to put forward a new relationship between rectilinear and rotational motion in dynamics; its reception was more positive, although not always appreciative of the generality. After summarising the creation of these two theories and noting their respective receptions, this paper considers his advocacy of spatial and geometrical thinking in mechanics and the fact that, despite its importance, historians of statics who cover his period usually ignore his theory of couples

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