Gravitation and Nineteenth-Century Physical Worldviews

  • F. H. Van Lunteren
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 123)


The reign of Newton’s theory of gravitation spanned a period of roughly two centuries. Much has been written about the original resistance it encountered, its gradual acceptance and its overwhelming success in the hands of the continental mathematicians of the eighteenth century. Equally well-known is the eventual dethronement of Newton’s theory by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The conception of this theory, stemming from the equivalence of inertial and gravitational mass, its striking confirmation, involving a solar eclipse, and the resultant worldwide celebrity it brought its originator make for a popular story. Far less attention, however, has been paid to the attitude of nineteenth-century scientists towards the Newtonian theory, in spite of the fact that proposals of explanatory mechanisms, sometimes involving modification of the force-law, abounded in the second half of the nineteenth century.1 This neglect is probably due to the sterility of these proposals and the fact that gravitation as a separate field of reseach did not exist during this period. This paper does not aim at filling this gap by treating any of these theories in detail or by presenting a general survey. Instead it will focus on the nineteenth-century change in attitude towards the nature of gravitation.


Nineteenth Century Solar Eclipse Mechanical Reduction Gravitational Theory Universal Gravitation 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. H. Van Lunteren
    • 1
  1. 1.University of UtrechtThe Netherlands

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