Physics in Perspective

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 425–438 | Cite as

Maxwell, Mechanism, and the Nature of Electricity

  • Alan Chalmers


Maxwell aimed to reduce electromagnetism to the mechanics of an ether and even proposed a detailed ether model of electromagnetic phenomena that could accommodate light waves. I argue in this paper that Maxwell's undoubted successes in electromagnetism came about in spite, rather than because of his attempts to reduce electromagnetism to mechanics. By the end of the nineteenth century it had become clear that electric charge and the electromagnetic field were primitives on a par with, and not to be reduced to mechanical entities such as mass.

Key words. Maxwell; mechanism; displacement current; electromagnetism. 


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel, 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Chalmers
    • 1
  1. 1.Philosophy Department, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5001, Australia, e-mail: chalmers_alan@hotmail.comAU

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