Ørsted's Concept Of Force And Theory Of Music

  • Dan Charly Christensen
Part of the Boston Studies In The Philosophy Of Science book series (BSPS, volume 241)

Understanding the concept of force was one of Kant’s primary concerns in his interpretation of Newtonian mechanics. Similarly, it was the major challenge for Ørsted trying to come to grips with Kantian metaphysics and to establish a natural philosophy that was both dynamical and experimental. In his brilliant introduction to Ørsted’s Selected Scientific Writings Andrew Wilson attempts to determine the evolution of Ørsted’s dynamics throughout his career. I agree that Ørsted’s progress was slight and that his explanation of his crucial experiment of 1820 appeared less convincing to contemporary natural philosophers than it did to Ørsted himself.


Constitutive Rule Critical Philosophy Transcendental Philosophy Determinate Concept Kantian Philosophy 
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    Selected Scientific Works of Hans Christian Ørsted, translated and edited by Karen Jelved, Andrew D. Jackson, and Ole Knudsen with an introduction by Andrew D.Wilson (Princeton, NJ, 1998), pp. xv–xl.Google Scholar
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    This is equivalent to Harold Bloom’s advancement of canonical criteria from the text of Shakespeare rather than evaluating literary quality on the basis of criteria constructed by theorists of literature, see Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, The Books and School of the Ages (New York, 1994), p. 40.Google Scholar
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    Kant’s ether deduction, although not published at the time, must somehow have been known by Ørsted and his circle in Berlin during the winter 1801–1802. I find it most likely that Ørsted was made aware of Kant’s Transition Project by Markus Herz, who together with his wife Henriette Herz hosted the so-called Kränzchen circle in Berlin once every week. Ørsted was a regular guest in Herz’s home during the winter 1801–1802. According to his diary (n. 23) Ørsted joined the Kränzchen fourteen times. Markus Herz had been Kant’s student in Königsberg, and being Kant’s preferred expert in philosophy was appointed the examiner of Kant’s dissertation in 1770, Uwe Schultz, Immanuel Kant in Selbsterzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten,(Hamburg, 1965), p. 86.Google Scholar
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    H. C. Ørsted, “The Same Principles of Beauty exist in the Objects Submitted to the Eye and to the Ear—An Essay”, The Soul in Nature with Supplementary Contributions, pp. 325–351, translated from the German by Leonora and Joanna B. Horner (London, 1852) (reprint London, 1966). Obviously the translation is a misleading paraphrase of the Danish title.Google Scholar
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    Kirstine Meyer comments (H.C. Ørsted, Scientific Papers (Copenhagen, 1920), vol.1, p. xlii): “…it cannot be denied that the arguments employed in various places, especially to explain the generation of electricity, bear the stamp of being adapted so as to agree with a previously given result and of building not so much on mathematically or experimentally grounded facts as on hypotheses intuitively advanced. To French and English scientists, in particular, who were not infected with the phraseology of the German school of Nature Philosophy, the form must have been distasteful”.Google Scholar
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    Ritter to Ørsted 16–17 August 1805: Vergiss nicht, daß wir Künstler seyn sollen. Kunst aber brauche ich dir nicht zu definiren., in Correspondance…., (n. 34) vol. 2, p. 114; cf. J. W. Ritter, “Anhang”, circa March 1809, in J.W.Ritter, Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers. Ein Taschenbuch für Freunde der Natur, edited by Steffen and Birgit Dietzsch, (Hanau/Main, 1984), pp. 267–286.Google Scholar
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    See below.Google Scholar
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    Ørsted kept the publications of these natural philosophers in his private library and exchanged letters with them. Fortegnelse over afdøde Geheimeconferentsraad, Professor ved Kjøbenhavns Universitet Hans Christian Ørsteds efterladte Bogsamling, Copenhagen 1853, especially pp. 17–19. The following authors relevant to aesthetics, music and sound are represented in Ørsted’s private library (containing according to this catalogue 6, 500 volumes + an unknown number inherited by the family): The Encyclopédie, Chladni, Euler, Gall, Lichtenberg, d’Alembert, Diderot, Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Ritter, Fr. Schlegel, Plato, Kierkegaard, Burke, Faraday, Herschel, Wheatstone. Correspondance…, (n. 34), vol. 2, pp. 320–328, 385–405, 588–597.Google Scholar
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    Ørsted to Wheatstone 12 June 23, Correspondance…, (n. 34), vol. 2, p. 590.Google Scholar
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    Some six months after his discovery of electromagnetic induction, Faraday had a sealed note deposited in the Royal Society, stating, among others, I think also, that I see reason for supposing that electric induction (of tension) is also performed in a similar progressive time. I am inclined to compare the diffusion of magnetic forces….to the vibrations upon the surface of disturbed water, or those of air in the phenomena of sound; i.e. I am inclined to think the vibratory theory will apply to these phenomena, as it does to sound and most probably to light.- By analogy I think it may possibly apply to the phenomena of induction of electricity of tension also.–These views I wish to work out experimentally: but as much of my time is engaged in the duties of my office, and as the experiments will therefore be prolonged, and may in their course be subject to the observation of others; I wish, by depositing this paper in the care of the Royal Society, to take possession as it were of a certain date, and a lone right, if they are confirmed by experiments, to claim credit for the views at that date: at which time as far as I know no one is conscious of or can claim them but myself, ibid. p. 181.Google Scholar
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    H.C. Ørsted, The Soul in Nature, pp. 352–371. Rather than the translation from the German edition to the English, “The Spiritual in the Material”, I would suggest “Mind and Matter”.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. p. 370.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. pp. 1–27. The English translation of The Soul in Nature, unfortunately, does not provide the correct information on the years these dialogues were written. Furthermore, it adds to the confusion that the first (1808), pp. 325–351, and the second (1839), pp. 352–371 dialogues are printed together under a mutual title. Hence the opening section of the third dialogue (1839), pp. 1–27, which Ørsted himself found so fundamental that he decided to make it introduce the entire collection, appears to be meaningless. Secondly, the translation itself is flawed. It was made not from the Danish original, but from the German translation, since the Horners did not know Danish. To give but one grave example from “The Principle of Beauty perceived by the Eye and Ear”: The English “third” is used as a translation of both the Danish “terts” and “treklang”. Hence this sentence: “The most beautiful of all harmonies, in itself, is the chord of the major third”. is nonsensical. “Third” must be replaced by “triad”. Unfortunately, this and other errors pop up too often. Thanks to Miss Nina Bundgaard, a student of mine, for making me aware of this.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. p. 13: Was der Geist verspricht leistet die Natur.Google Scholar
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    At this point, too, Ørsted is in full agreement with Kant, cf. Kritik der Urteilskraft, ibid. p. 329.Google Scholar
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    To Ørsted it was self-evident that nobody could be taught to make a great discovery. But as a dynamist and a rather bad mathematician Ørsted, the discoverer, could not avail himself of the rules of mechanics and did not apply mathematics. To Ørsted genius meant exceptional independence of mind and he applied the term genius on both great scientists and great artists, since he stresses the similarities between the two branches; cf. H. C. Ørsted, “Nogle Bidrag til at belyse Poesiens og Kritikens Eensidigheder og Overdrivelser i den senere Tid” (“Some Contributions to enlighten the recent Onesidedness and Exaggerations of Poetry and Criticism”), in H. C. Ørsted, Samlede og Efterladte Skrifter, vol. 9, (Copenhagen, 1852), pp. 60–65.Google Scholar
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    Cf. J. W. Ritter’s speech “Die Physik als Kunst” (“Physics as Art”), in J. W. Ritter, Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers. Ein Taschenbuch für Freunde der Natur, ed. by Steffen and Birgit Dietzsch, (Hanau/Main, 1984), pp. 288–320, and Dan Ch.Christensen, “Physics as a Branch of Art—The Romantics in Jena”, in Intersections. Art and Science in the Golden Age, edited by Mogens Bencard (Copenhagen, 2000), pp. 18–31.Google Scholar
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    “Science and art on their highest peak approach one another amiably as siblings”, in H. C. Ørsted, “Over Videnskaben og Kunstens Væsen” (“On the Nature of Science and Art”), in H. C. Ørsted, Samlede og Efterladte Skrifter, vol. 9 (Copenhagen, 1852), pp. 41–43.Google Scholar

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© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dan Charly Christensen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of RoskildeDenmark

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