Leibnizian Conservation in d'Alembert's Traité de dynamique

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In this article, we examine Leibniz’s legacy by tracing the path that the conservation of living force took in the Traité de dynamique of Jean Le Rond D’Alembert. What is immediately obvious is that D’Alembert shares few, if any, of the same assumptions concerning the meaning and importance of the conservation of living force. Further, it appears that the general aims of physics are also fundamentally different for each thinker. Leibniz sought to provide a “dynamics” that underlined the indispensability of metaphysical commitments to substantial form and inherent action, while D’Alembert argued against metaphysical implications even in the context of the minimalist ontology of Newtonian forces. Hence the sense of legacy in the passage from Leibniz and D’Alembert can only be an indirect one with regard to the problem of the conservation of living force. The legacy of Leibniz, in this case, is one of the transmission of a problem rather than a positive doctrine or method. In the course of the chapter we identify Leibniz’s construction of the unsolved problem of how living forces are conserved (not just that they are conserved) and underline the kind of solutions that would have been acceptable to him. Following this, we examine D’Alembert’s Traité de dynamique to see how this problem was taken up and given a solution. By tracing the path between Leibniz and D’Alembert, we shed some light on how this “afterlife” of the concept of living force produced powerful methods crucial to the later development of analytical mechanics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLeibniz’s Legacy and Impact
EditorsJulia Weckend, Lloyd Strickland
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages36
ISBN (Electronic)9781315103570
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2019


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