Hermann von Helmholtz's Mechanism: The Loss of Certainty

A Study on the Transition from Classical to Modern Philosophy of Nature

  • Gregor Schiemann

Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 17)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-x
  2. Mechanism Between the Classical and the Modern Conception of Science

  3. Helmholtz's Mechanism at the Dawn of Modernity

  4. Back Matter
    Pages 249-283

About this book


Two seemingly contradictory tendencies have accompanied the development of the natural sciences in the past 150 years. On the one hand, the natural sciences have been instrumental in effecting a thoroughgoing transformation of social structures and have made a permanent impact on the conceptual world of human beings. This historical period has, on the other hand, also brought to light the merely hypothetical validity of scientific knowledge. As late as the middle of the 19th century the truth-pathos in the natural sciences was still unbroken. Yet in the succeeding years these claims to certain knowledge underwent a fundamental crisis. For scientists today, of course, the fact that their knowledge can possess only relative validity is a matter of self-evidence.

The present analysis investigates the early phase of this fundamental change in the concept of science through an examination of Hermann von Helmholtz's conception of science and his mechanistic interpretation of nature. Helmholtz (1821-1894) was one of the most important natural scientists in Germany. The development of this thought offers an impressive but, until now, relatively little considered report from the field of the experimental sciences chronicling the erosion of certainty.


19th century Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Helmholtz, Hermann von hypothesis nature philosophy of nature philosophy of science science truth

Editors and affiliations

  • Gregor Schiemann
    • 1
  1. 1.Philosophisches Seminar Bergische UniversitätWuppertalGermany

Bibliographic information