A Development of the Principle of Virtual Laws and its Conceptual Framework in Mechanics as Fundamental Relationship between Physics and Mathematics

Raffaele Pisano


Generally speaking, virtual displacement or work concerns to a timely idea according to which a motion of a certain body is not the unique possible motion. The process of reducing this motion to a particular magnitude and concept, eventually minimizing as a hypothesis, can be traced back to the Aristotelian school. In the history and philosophy of science one finds various enunciations of the Principle of Virtual Laws and its virtual displacement or work applications, i.e., from Aristotle to Leibniz’s vis viva, from Maupertuis’ least action to Euler and Lagrange with calculus of variations (statics and dynamics) to Lazare Carnot’s mechanics. In this case study, I will demonstrate that a particular approach used by Lazare Carnot is original by explaining within the historical context of rival approaches such as the development of the Principle of virtual Laws (also known as the Principle of virtual velocity or of virtual work). I will also discuss Carnot’s geometric motion as one of the possible but invertible movements applied to virtual displacement as employed in his theories of machines and collisions. I will then go on to explore how the originality of an invertible motion within his mechanical and, in general, mathematical research program permitted Carnot to introduce a new way of structuring a scientific theory and making mechanics, with respect to the Newtonian paradigm, to scholars and his students of the École polytechnique de Paris.


Virtual laws; gravitas secundum situm; Relationships between Physics and Mathematics; Foundations of Physics

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24117/2526-2270.2017.i2.19


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Copyright (c) 2017 Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science

ISSN: 2526-2270

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