The Mechanical Representation of Knowledge

From Descartes’ Mechanized Geometry to Carnot’s Heat Engine


  • Jojomar Lucena University of São Paulo (USP)
  • Cassio C. Laranjeiras Institute of Physics at the University of Brasilia
  • J. R. N. Chiappin University of São Paulo – FEA – USP



Carnot’s machine, Heuristic of representation, Descartes, Mechanical geometry


This article revisits aspects of Thermodynamics’ history by applying the Cartesian conception of a machine to Sadi Carnot’s work. By defining mechanically geometric curves, Descartes placed mechanical science at the centre of geometry and natural philosophy. With this, the autonomous machine - a product of this science - starts to correspond to an operational definition with the power to understand and generate new ideas in addition to a general explanation model. After nearly two centuries, Carnot presented a reversible thermal machine theory - mechanically inspired and defined operationally as an ideal model - and represented it analogically. That addressed the problem of maximizing the production of motive power. Although still limited in its ability to solve problems, it inaugurated a progressive sequence of representations with an ever-widening phenomenological reach. As suggested in this article, classical thermodynamics’ emergence and development correspond to a Cartesian style theorization.


Download data is not yet available.




How to Cite

Lucena, Jojomar, Cassio C. Laranjeiras, and J. R. N. Chiappin. 2023. “The Mechanical Representation of Knowledge: From Descartes’ Mechanized Geometry to Carnot’s Heat Engine”. Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science, no. 14 (June).