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date: 15 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article focuses on Pierre Simon Laplace’s contributions to the physics of short-range forces. Laplacian physics can be interpreted as an attempt to realize a supposedly Newtonian ideal of a science that would account for all phenomena in terms of attractive or repulsive central forces acting between the particles of matter. Laplace formulated and pursued a programme between the 1790s and his death in1827 based on Isaac Newton’s ideas, but it also incorporated theories with a less direct Newtonian pedigree. The most important of these were the theories of the imponderable property-bearing fluids of heat (commonly known as caloric), light, electricity, and magnetism. Laplace first engaged with questions relating to the imponderable fluids in the context of his early experimental work on heat in the 1770s. This article first discusses Laplace’s programme before considering his association with the First Class of the French Institute and his legacy.

Keywords: Pierre Simon Laplace, Physics, short-range forces, imponderable fluids, heat, First Class of the French Institute, Isaac Newton, light, electricity, magnetism

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