Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pierre Duhem Online

It's a sign I'm a bit slow, but I just realized that several of the articles in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, which is online, are by none other than Pierre Duhem himself. The articles are:

History of Physics
Pierre de Maricourt
Jordanus de Nemore
Nicole Oresme
Albert of Saxony
Thierry of Freburg
Jean de Sax

This should have occurred to me before; after all, Duhem -- physicist, historian of science, philosopher of science, Catholic -- would have been the perfect person at the time to do articles like these. So there are several articles online on the history of science, particularly medieval science, by the greatest historian of science of the twentieth century. That's quite a nice thing to find out. I especially recommend the "History of Physics" article, which gives a Duhemian perspective on physics up to late nineteenth century thermodynamics, in a very concise and readable form.

Duhem, of course, was a thermodynamicist, one of France's very best; his name is attached to the Gibbs-Duhem relation and the Clausius-Duhem inequality because he took the work of Gibbs and Clausius and made it more rigorous. He began working early on the history of mechanics, which led him to do groundbreaking research into the medieval roots of science. One of the mysteries of his career is why France's most brilliant mind in thermodynamics was assigned to a low-level teaching position at an insignificant school in the French school system, where he was isolated from the main work done at Paris and had few resources to work with. Stanley Jaki has argued, with some degree of plausibility, that it was all politics -- Duhem had embarrassed the wrong people, and they made sure to dampen his career as much as they could. Whatever the reason, Duhem's work in history of science and philosophy of science alone would be enough to earn him a place among the intellectual giants of the past few centuries.

You can also read his Physics of a Believer online, as well as excerpts from his masterpiece in philosophy of science (and here) and his masterpiece in history of science, thanks to Joseph Barrett. Readers of French can enjoy parts of Le système du monde at Gallica (scroll down to Duhem here for other parts).

[ADDED LATER: Additional online versions of Duhem's texts can be found in several formats here, thanks to Alain Blachair.]

1 comment:

  1. Geremia3:01 AM

    This site has a whole collection of his online works. There is also a very nice OCRed and formatted PDF version of his La théorie physique, son objet, sa structure (1906).

    Paul Needham has just produced the first full-length translation of one of Pierre Duhem's scientific works: Commentary on the Principles of Thermodynamics by Pierre Duhem. From its preface:<blockquote>Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem (1861–1916) held the chair of physics (changed to chair of theoretical physics in 1895) at Bordeaux from 1894 to his death. He established a reputation in both the history and philosophy of science as well as in science (physics and physical chemistry). His pioneering work in medieval science opened up the area as a new discipline in the history of science, and his La théorie physique (Duhem 1906) is a classic in the philosophy of science which is still read and discussed today. Although his work in these two fields is now well represented in English with a number of translations that have appeared in recent decades (Duhem 1892b, 1903, 1902, 1905–1906, 1906, 1908, 1915, 1985, 1996), there is little of his scientific work available in English. The original manuscript of Duhem (1898) was translated by J. E. Trevor, one of the editors of The Journal of Physical Chemistry, for its first issue. But his work almost invariably appeared in French. The present volume contains translations of some of his important early work in thermodynamics, which I hope will contribute to a more balanced picture in English of the breadth of Duhem’s publications and provide a further source of insight into his thought.</blockquote>

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