Margaret Wilson Dauler Lecture

Mar 17, 2022, 4:30 pm6:00 pm
Julis Romo Rabinowitz Bldg. Room A17



Event Description

An important claim in Berkeley’s approach to physics is that forces should be understood, not as real qualities of bodies, but rather as “mathematical hypotheses” that are useful for organizing our reasonings about the world, but which must not be taken as genuine elements of nature. I investigate Berkeley’s use of the term “mathematical hypothesis” and argue that the concept plays an important role in his broadly instrumentalistic philosophy of science. In particular, Berkeley maintained that by taking forces as mathematical hypotheses he could solve controversies about the nature and measure of forces. Disputes over the force of percussion, the proper conservation laws for force, and the transmission of force by impact arise when some active principle contained in bodies is mistakenly thought to be source of activity. When this assumption is discarded and forces are understood only as convenient mathematical representations rather than genuine causes of motion, such controversies simply disappear.

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