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Physics Seminar - Emilie Du Châtelet and the Foundations of Physics

This is a past event.

Friday, March 19, 2021 at 1:00pm

Virtual Event

Prof. Katherine Brading (Duke University)

Join us on Zoom

Emilie Du Châtelet’s Institutions de Physique (Foundations of Physics) tackles the most important foundational questions in the physics of the early 18th century. This was a time when bodily interaction presented physicists with pressing questions: Newtonian attraction was highly controversial, and the Paris Academy was offering several prizes on the physics of collisions. How these issues were resolved underlies the later emergence of physics as autonomous from philosophy. Contrary to popular accounts, in the mid 18th century (decades after Newton’s Principia), physics remained a subdiscipline of philosophy, distinct in its goals and methods from the mathematical discipline of mechanics. Philosophy of physics helps us appreciate the conceptual richness and agility of physics, and history of physics gives us an appreciation of how hard-won these conceptual developments were. Du Châtelet’s work gives us a window into both. 

Brief bio: Katherine Brading has published on Noether’s theorems, symmetries in physics, the early history of general relativity, philosophy of space and time, and natural philosophy in the work of Descartes, Newton and Du Châtelet. After an undergraduate degree in physics and philosophy and a brief spell as a nuclear safety engineer, she received her DPhil in philosophy of physics from Oxford. She spent 13 years at the University of Notre Dame, where she directed the program in history and philosophy of science, and she is now professor of philosophy at Duke University. Her current research is a collaborative project on philosophy, physics and mechanics in the 18th century, entitled Philosophical Mechanics in the Age of Reason.

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