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Mécanique Céleste: Jean Kovalevsky explains that “Celestial mechanics [Mécanique Céleste] is, essentially, the application of the laws of universal mechanics to the study of the movements and the equilibriums of celestial bodies that undergo the action of forces whose origin is gravitational” (“La mécanique céleste est, essentiellement, l’application des lois de la mécanique universelle à l’étude des mouvements et des équilibres des corps célestes qui subissent l’action de forces dont l’origine est gravitationnelle”; Kovalevsky 7). The French mathematician and astronomer, Pierre-Simon Laplace, published his five-volume work Mécanique Céleste between 1799 and 1827 (Lovering 185). The book, containing 2000 quarto pages, is a highly condensed collection of his astronomical researches in which he leaves out all secondary calculations (Whittaker 8). It is famous for principles it developed as well as for providing the “key to the vast and complex superstructure” (Woodward 49). Laplace based much of his work upon Newton’s discoveries and relied heavily on Newton’s recent invention of calculus (Woodward 49-51).

Carlyle claims that even “Archimedes and Plato could not have read the Mécanique Céleste; but neither would the whole French Institute see aught in that saying, "God geometrises!" but a sentimental rodomontade.” Here, he implies that the writings on celestial mechanics are so complicated and technical that even the great mathematicians of ancient Greece could not comprehend them, while at the same time, the French Institute (a “Parliament of the Learned”, created in 1795) would no longer see value in some of the work of the ancient Greeks, implied through the reference to Plato’s famous phrase “God geometrizes continually” (Young 13). Carlyle critiques society’s new obsession with mechanical science when this means abandoning the great sciences of the past, particularly the less technical and more philosophical ones. He feels that contemporary science deals only with the physical world and has no moral component and no greater purposes to it, unlike the work of scientists such as Plato, which deals with humanity at large.

Works Cited

Institut de France. 2010. L’Institut de France. 24 Mar. 2010.

Kovalevsky, Jean. Introduction ˆ la mécanique céleste. Paris: Librarie Armand Colin, 1963.

Lovering, Joseph. “The ÔMécanique Céleste’ of Laplace, and Its Translation, with a Commentary by Bowditch.” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 24 (May 1888-May 1889): 185-201. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

Whittaker, Edmund. “Laplace.” The Mathematical Gazette 33 No. 303 (Feb. 1949): 1-12. JSTOR. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

Woodward, R. S. “Tisserand’s Mecanique Celeste.” The Annals of Mathematics 6.2 (Aug., 1891): 49-56. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

Young, Violet S. “A Plea for Mathematics.” Mathematics News Letter 6.1 (Sep. 1931): 12-17. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.


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Last modified 25 March 2010