User:LGreg/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge (LG seminar 2020/21)/Seminar 18/History/History of Physics and Philosophy

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History of Physics and Philosophy

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The two subjects have always been intertwined - before something is considered physics it was philosophy. On the one hand, physics is considered by some the oldest discipline [1] , on the other others would argue the oldest is philosophy, since it originated from pre-Socratic thinkers.[2] At university level, Physics and Philosophy is considered a joint honours degree to-date, although others see the split as that between "theoretical physics" and "experimental physics".


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In 1771, the subject of physics was defined in the national Encyclopedia as such: “Physics, a denomination sometimes given to natural philosophy” [3] Historically, the scientific revolution brought a lot of attention to the study of physics, starting with Copernicus in 1543 and his solar system model. But this in itself was a very philosophical consideration, stemming from the philosophy of metaphysics as well as from the consideration mathematical models. [4]

A common approach used to separate physics from philosophy is that philosophy is the practice of hypothesis, whilst physics is about working with the phenomena themselves. [5] However it can be argued that without the latter the former cannot be achieved. For example, aligning the use of propositional logic to linear algebra would not be possible without accepting the need to overlap philosophy with physics and mathematics.

Current day

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By the 19th century, physics had a definition much more similar to now. It became a more accepted aspect of science in itself.[6] As a discipline, the boundaries of physics are not strictly defined [7] and for this reason the question as to why physics and philosophy are to-date considered separate disciplines remains.


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  1. Krupp, E. C. (Edwin C.), 1944- (2003). Echoes of the ancient skies : the astronomy of lost civilizations. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-42882-6. OCLC 51637852.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 1770-1831. (1990). Lectures on the history of philosophy : the lectures of 1825-1826. Brown, Robert F., 1941-, Stewart, J. M. (J. Michael), Harris, H. S. (Henry Silton), 1926-. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-19-927906-3. OCLC 20170812.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. Silliman, Robert H. (1974). "Fresnel and the Emergence of Physics as a Discipline". Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences. 4: 137–162. doi:10.2307/27757329. ISSN 0073-2672.
  4. Rabin, Sheila (2004-11-30). "Nicolaus Copernicus". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. McMullin, Ernan (2001). "The Impact of Newton's Principia on the Philosophy of Science". Philosophy of Science. 68 (3): 279–310. ISSN 0031-8248.
  6. Young, Hugh D. (2014). Sears and Zemansky's university physics with modern physics : technology update. Freedman, Roger A., Sears, Francis Weston, 1898-1975. (13th ed., Pearson new international ed. ed.). Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education. ISBN 978-1-292-02063-1. OCLC 857280606. {{cite book}}: |edition= has extra text (help)
  7. Young, Hugh D. (2014). Sears and Zemansky's university physics with modern physics : technology update. Freedman, Roger A., Sears, Francis Weston, 1898-1975. Pearson Education. ISBN 9781292020631. OCLC 857280606.