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The Genesis of the Laws of Thermodynamics [1941a]

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel
Chapter
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 21)

Abstract

The history of the establishment of the two great laws of thermodynamics is instructive on more than one score. Considered, as it usually is, from its purely logical aspect, it raises varied and important questions of scientific method, which occur here with particular simplicity and clarity. In fact, the logical structure of thermodynamics exhibits very pure lines: It reduces to two laws of universal significance expressing two independent but closely linked aspects of the most general impossibility of “perpetual motion”. The manner in which these two laws were successively disentangled, in which their independence was recognized, and in which the problem of their compatibility was then raised, offers for analysis a clearly delimited group of facts without complicated ramifications or cumbersome accessory details. Three more or less successive phases may be distinguished: The first. dominated by the great solitary figure of Carnot, includes the statement of the second law (1824) in a still imperfect form and its slow diffusion throughout the scientific public (from 1834 to 1847); the second phase occupies the period from 1839 to 1847 in the course of which several, as yet isolated pioneers, notably R. Mayer and Joule, arrived at the formulation of the first law, or law of conservation of natural forces; the third phase (1848–1851) culminated in the logical synthesis of these two laws, thanks to the efforts of W. Thomson and Clausius. The depth and originality of the researchers who constructed this great theory make the study of their guiding viewpoints and the analysis of the development of their ideas singularly attractive. This analysis, as we know,1 has notably afforded us precious lessons on the respective roles of experimental induction and theoretical or philosophical speculation in discovery, and on the logical structure of natural laws.

Keywords

Motive Power Natural Force Logical Aspect Steam Engine Industrial Civilization 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cf. the works of E. Mach: History and Root of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy, transl, by Philip E. B. Jourdain (Open Court Publ. Co., La Salle, III., 1911); The Science of Mechanics, transl, by Thomas J. McCormack (Open Court Publ. Co.. La Salle, III., I960). Principien der Wärmelehre (Leipzig 1896) [translation in preparation for the Vienna Circle Collection, Reidel Publ. Co., Dordrecht, Holland and Boston — Ed.]Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. L. Rosenfeld., Archeion 21 (1938). 74.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    S. Carnot., Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu (1824) [Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, ed. E. Mendoza., (Dover, New York, 1960) — Ed.]. The 1878 reprinting contains a biography of Sadi Carnot by his brother Hippolyte as well as unpublished notes selected from the papers of Sadi Carnot (who died in 1832). Subsequent references refer to this reprinting.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Loc. cit., note (30, p. 76: “Preoccupied with a desire to be clear, Sadi had me read passages of his manuscript to reassure himself that it would be understood by people devoted to other studies” (H. Carnot).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Carnot scrupulously cites ail erroneous calculation by A. Petit, Ann. de Chimie et de Phys. 294 (1816), and a paper by Clement which has remained unpublished.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    E. Clapeyron., Journal de l’École Polytechnique 14 (1834), 153.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ann. der Phys. u. Chem. 59 (1843). 446. Poggendorff accompanies the translation with this remark: “This article which up to now has received very little attention, nevertheless seems to deserve mention here even now because of its importance.”Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    R. Mayer, Die Mechanik der Wärme, 3rd edition with biographical notes by J. Weyrauch, and a second volume containing his correspondence and various documents (1893).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    On this subject see the remarkable works of Hélène Metzger: La genèse de la science des cristaux (1918); Les doctrines chimiques en France (1923); Les concepts scientifiques (1926): Newton, Stahl, Boerhaave et la doctrine chimique (1930); La philosophie de la matière chez Lavoisier (1935).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    H. Heimholtz, Über die Erhaltung der Kraft, 1847 (Wissensch. Ahhandl., 1882, vol. I, p. 12). [There are two translations of this work: (1) ‘On the Conservation of Force’ in Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, transl, by E. Atkinson, ed. J. Tyndall (London 1884); (2) ‘The Conservation of Force: A Physical Memoir’ in Selected Writings of Hermann von Helmholtz, ed. R. Kahl (Wesleyan University Press, Middlctown, 1971) — Ed.)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    J. Lagrange, Mécanique analytique, 3rd edition (revised) by J. Bertrand, 1853. See for Stevin, Part 1,Section 1, Nos. 5 and 9 (vol. I., pp. 7 and 11); for Galileo. Part 2, Section 1, No. 1 (vol. I, p. 209); for Huygens, ibid., Nos. 6 and 7 (pp. 217 and 219–220); for Bernoulli, Part 2, Section 10 (vol. II, p. 247 ).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cf. loc. cit., note (11), vol. I, J. Bertrand’s notes at the bottom of pp. 33, 39, 126, 140, 153, 178, 187, and 213.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See Mayer, op. cit., vol. II, p. 420.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., vol. II, p. 139.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cf. O. Reynolds, ‘Memoir of J. P. Joule’ (Proc. Manchester Lit. and Phil. Soc., 4th series, vol. 6 (1892)), p. 38.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Heimholtz, op. cit.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Carnot, op. cit.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    R. Clausius. Ann. d. Phys. 79 (1850), 368, 500.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel

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