I have started reading Rene Dugas' History of Mechanics book. I want to understand physics from the spectacle of seeing its intellectual evolution instead of directly jumping into its general theories/paradigms, for I don't want leaps in the knowledge, which I think is going to leave in the unstable situation in the scientific field of genuine analysis.

For this project, I have taken Dugas book as the aid to see the persons contributing mechanics, then reading their books. Dugas book starts from Arsitotle, so at the first, I want to know the scientific environment in the antiquity, at least from Aristotle. Any book suggestions or the suggestion on the matter considered here will be really helpful.

  • Right now I have found this book, The Beginnings of Western Science: amazon.com/… – Immortal Player Apr 1 '16 at 15:19
  • But I don't whether it is the best one to start or not. – Immortal Player Apr 1 '16 at 15:19
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    I find Russo's Forgotten Revolution very instructive for the breadth of sources he draws upon if nothing else, although some of his reconstructions are controversial. maa.org/press/maa-reviews/… – Conifold Apr 1 '16 at 18:05
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    Nice choice. Dugas's History of Mechanics is excellent. – Geremia Apr 3 '16 at 4:09

Not much is really known about general "scientific environment". What we really have is only books and fragments of scientists and references on them in other works. It is commonly acknowledged that most writings did not survive. So we cannot have an adequate picture of the general scientific environment. The most developed sciences were mathematics and astronomy, and there are many good books on this, for example:

Exact sciences in antiquity by O. Neugebauer, and Science awakening by B. L. van der Waerden. (They cover Babylonian science, not only Greek).

One general comprehensive book on Hellenistic science is L. Russo, The Forgotten Revolution, but it covers only the Hellenistic period. There are many more specialized books, especially on mathematics and astronomy.

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    There was no physics in antiquity, except statics, rudimentary hydraulics (Archimedes) and pneumatics (Ctesibius). – Alexandre Eremenko Apr 2 '16 at 2:10
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    My advise: read Archimedes himself. There is a good English translation. You will never regret. – Alexandre Eremenko Apr 2 '16 at 2:57
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    (1) Somehow, despite the exceptions cited, the comment's main assertion, "no physics in antiquity," seems too strong. (2) There was also some mechanics, too (e.g. Arist. Phys. VI). – Michael E2 Apr 2 '16 at 13:23
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    @Michael: It is not clear whether Aristotle has to be be included to the history of science. I would rather call this pre-science. Of course he had an enormous influence in the middle age, but it seems this influence was mostly negative. – Alexandre Eremenko Apr 2 '16 at 13:36
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    Thanks. No doubt a long debate. "Pre-science" clarifies your statement. – Michael E2 Apr 2 '16 at 14:35

I find Russo's Forgotten Revolution very instructive for the breadth of sources he draws upon if nothing else, although some of his reconstructions are controversial. Zhmud's Origin of the History of Science in Classical Antiquity is also panoramic, and covers the pre-Hellenistic period. Sambursky's Physical World of the Greeks and other works are somewhat more narrowly focused.

  • The book of Zhmud is not about science. It is about Greek HISTORY of science (History of science as studied and understood by the Greeks). – Alexandre Eremenko Apr 2 '16 at 2:24
  • @Alexandre Who better to give "thorough understanding on the scientific environment of antiquity" first hand than contemporary historians of it? It gives a big picture of early Greek science, and of necessity cuts down on modernizations, a contrast to Russo. – Conifold Apr 2 '16 at 20:37

René Dugas was influenced by Pierre Duhem (1861-1916), the founder of the field of the history of medieval physics. Duhem's fundamental thesis in the history of physics is known as the "continuity thesis" (cf. Hannam's The Genesis of Science for a semi-popular introduction) which is in contrast to what could be called Kuhn's "discontinuity or rupture thesis" of paradigm shifts. Duhem likened the history of physics to the evolution of the construction of a cathedral: a continuous, centuries-long development and refinement.

Duhem's magnum opus in the history of physics is:

He begins with Plato and Aristotle and works up until right before the Renaissance. Despite the title, he was never able to complete the work up until Copernicus's time, but he did write about Copernicus and held a very unique view of the "Galileo affair" in To Save the Phenomena.

Poignant excerpts are translated in:

He not only reports the historical facts but also keenly interprets them from the standpoint of a modern physicist and shows how the scientists of the High Middle Ages, especially, laid the foundations of Newtonian physics. Duhem's works are much deeper philosophically and historiographically than Dugas's; Dugas focuses more on the theoretical and mathematical content of the theories.

This work influenced Dugas profoundly:

There's also this on the Parisian precursors of Galileo, which has been translated into English:

A good book to survey is The Chemical Philosophy by Allen G. Debus. It is less about physics specifically but will give you a good picture of what a scientist thought he was supposed to be doing way back when.

You can see along the way how each expert had their own versions of Claim, Counterclaim, Evidence and Argument or Proof. They can hardly be blamed for their imprecision since nothing then was standardized. Each had their own motivations and suspicions of others.

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