The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence as a Case Study for the Historiography of Physics
Keywords:Space and Time, Historiography of Physics, History of Philosophy
This paper examines an important episode in the history of early modern physics – the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence of 1715-16, an exchange that occurred at the intersection of physics, metaphysics and theology – before turning to questions of interpretation in the historiography of physics. Samuel Clarke, a disciple of Isaac Newton, engaged in a dispute over Newton’s commitment to absolute space and absolute time with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who criticized Newton’s views and advanced a rival account. I clarify the positions at stake in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, define a variety of terms – absolute space, absolute time, substantivalism, and relationalism – endogenous to the exchange, and reconstruct key elements in the philosophical dimension of the dispute. I then use the Leibniz-Clarke exchange as a springboard from which to examine interpretive considerations in the historiography of physics. I argue that the history of physics can benefit from reassessing its historiographical commitments by borrowing or appropriating some of the intellectual resources used by philosophers working in the history of philosophy. This historiographical reassessment, I contend, will not only shed new light on the Leibniz-Clarke exchange but may also reinvigorate the history of physics.
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Copyright (c) 2020 Matt Waldschlagel
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