True Motion Ch 4: Leibniz

Abstract

This item is a chapter from a book in progress, entitled "True Motion". Leibniz’s mechanics was, as we shall see, a theory of elastic collisions, not formulated like Huygens’ in terms of rules explicitly covering every possible combination of relative masses and velocities, but in terms of three conservation principles, including (effectively) the conservation of momentum and kinetic energy. That is, he proposed what we now call (ironically enough) ‘Newtonian’ (or ‘classical’) elastic collision theory. While such a theory is, for instance, vital to the foundations of the kinetic theory of gases, it is not applicable to systems – like gravitational systems – in which fields of force are present. Thus, Leibniz’s mechanical principles never led to developments of the order of Newton’s in the Principia (additionally, he hamstrung their application by embedding them in a baroque philosophical system).

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Nick Huggett
University of Illinois, Chicago

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