Potentia, Actio, Vis: The quantity mv^2 and its causal role

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This article aims to interpret Leibniz’s dynamics project (circa 1678-1700) through a theory of the causation of corporeal motion. It presents an interpretation of the dynamics that characterizes physical causation as the structural organization of phenomena. The measure of living force (vis viva) by mv2 must then be understood as an organizational property of motion conceptually distinct from the geometrical or otherwise quantitative magnitudes exchanged in mechanical phenomenon. To defend this view, we examine one of the most important theoretical discrepancies of Leibniz’s dynamics with classical mechanics, the measure of vis viva as mv2 rather than ½ mv2. This “error”, resulting from the limits of Leibniz’s methodology, reveals the systematic role of this quantity mv2 in the dynamics. In examining the evolution of the quantity mv2 in the refinement of the force concept (vis) from potentia to actio, I argue that Leibniz’s systematic limitations help clarify the dynamical causality as neither strictly metaphysical nor mechanical but a distinct level of reality to which Leibniz dedicates the “dynamica” as “nova scientia”.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-443
JournalArchiv für Geschichte der Philosophie
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2018


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