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Meanest Foundations and Nobler Superstructures


This book is a historical-epistemological study of one the most consequential idea of early modern celestial mechanics: Robert Hooke's proposal to "compoun[d] the celestial motions of the planets of a direct motion by the tangent & an attractive motion towards a central body," a proposal which Isaac Newton adopted and realized in his Principia.

Hooke's Programme was revolutionary both cosmologically and mathematically. It presented "the celestial motions," the proverbial symbol of stability and immutability, as a process of continuous change, and prescribed only parameters of rectilinear motions and rectilinear attractions for calculating their closed curved orbits. Yet the traces of Hooke's construction of his Programme for the heavens lead through his investigations in such earthly disciplines as microscopy, practical optics and horology, and the mathematical tools developed by Newton to accomplish it appear no less local and goal-oriented than Hooke's lenses and springs.

This transgression of the boundaries between the theoretical, experimental and technological realms is reminiscent of Hooke's own free excursions in and out of the circles occupied by gentlemen-philosophers, university mathematicians, instrument makers, technicians and servants. It presents an opportunity to examine the social and epistemological distinctions, relations and hierarchies between those realms and their inhabitants, and compels a critical assessment of the philosophical categories they embody.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents. Introduction. Part A: The Historical Question. 1. Gallileo's Challenge. 2. The Correspondence. 3. Hooke's Programme. Part B: The Historiographic Difficulty. 4. Hooke vs. Newton. 5. The Genius vs. The Mechanic. 1. Inflection. Introduction: The Bad Ending. Part A: The Novelty. 1. Hooke's Programme. 2. Setting the Question Right. Part B: Employing Inflection. 3. Inflection. 4. Application as Manipulation. Part C: Producing Inflection in the Workshop. 5. Construction. 6. Implementation. 7. Tentative Conclusion. Interlude: Practice. 1. Introduction - Methodological Lessons. 2. Hacking. 3. The Realism Snare. 2. Power. Part A: 1. Introduction. 2. De Potentia Restitutiva, or: Of Spring. Part B: 3. Horology. 4. The Spring Watch. 5. Springs and Forces. Part C: 6. The Origins of the Vibration Theory. 7. Of Spring again. 8. Springs as a Topos. 9. A Clockwork Theory of Matter and Power. 2.nd Interlude: Representation. 1. Rorty. 2. 'Knowledge Of and 'Knowledge That'. 3. Hacking and Rorty. 3. Newton's Synthesis. 1. Introduction. 2. Newton Before and After. 3. Hooke's Programme. Notes. Introduction. 1. Inflection. 1st Interlude: Practice. 2. Clocks, Pendulums and Springs. 2.nd Interlude: Representation. 3. Newton's Synthesis. Bibliography. Index.


From the reviews: "...I find Meanest Foundations and Nobler Superstructures to be an excellent resource in the history of science and particularly valuable for its recognition of Hooke's scientific style." (Physics Today, September 2003) "This book is very densely packed with theses, issues, new ideas, and historical and philosophical comparisons - all very well researched and thoroughly documented. ... a well-written and in particular very well researched study in the history and philosophy of science of one of the most important and interesting periods in the history of Western science and in intellectual history as a whole. Students of the period and of history and philosophy of science in general will find it an important addition to the discipline's literature." (Zvi Solow, The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 54, July, 2005)

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