This source claims that "d'Alembert won the prize of the Prussian Academy of Sciences with his essay on winds", and this source claims that "A prize essay on the theory of winds in 1746 led to membership in the Berlin Academy of Sciences".

I don't really know where to look (and searches involving 1746 haven't been fruitful) to find d'Almbert's essay on the theory of winds. What can I find it?


1 Answer 1


In 1740, the French Royal Academy of Science lauched a competition regarding the nature of tides, of which Colin MacLaurin was joint winner (I can find no record of who authored the other winning entry) for his essay “De Causa physica fluxus et refluxus maris” (On the cause of tides). In his essay, MacLaurin argues that the sea currents were affected by “the uneven velocity of a body carried by the earth in its daily motion around its axis”.

It is thought that the Berlin Academy of Sciences may have been inspired, in 1746, to announce a prize for anybody who could determine “the nature and the law” which the wind ought to obey in case the earth was covered by an ocean. The solution had to be presented in a form that allowed predictions. The winning contribution by d’Alembert was published in 1746 under the title “Reflexions sur la cause generale des vents.”

A copy of the essay can be found on the National Library of France site here : Réflexions sur la cause générale des vents.

You can also buy a copy from Amazon.

Clairaut attacked d'Alembert's methods :

In order to avoid delicate experiments or long tedious calculations, in order to substitute analytical methods which cost them less trouble, they often make hypotheses which have no place in nature; they pursue theories that are foreign to their object, whereas a little constancy in the execution of a perfectly simple method would have surely brought them to their goal.

A heated argument between d'Alembert and Clairaut resulted in the two fine mathematicians trading insults in the scientific journals of the day.

The source for my answer and additional details can be found here : St. Andrews MacTutor page on d'Alembert


If inadvertently missed including the main source for my answer : History of Meteorology Site PDF.

  • $\begingroup$ For 1946 read 1746. $\endgroup$
    – fdb
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ @fdb Ya, well.... what can I say. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ Calculus priority, vis viva, this, seems like trading insults was the way to go in those days :) $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Conifold Yes, well it seems that some things just never get old. In my experience, most of the stack exchange sites can get pretty heated at times. PSE has provided quite a number of "humorous" clashes. I've edited my answer owing to my referencing the wrong main source. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:06

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