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Two rival programmes in 19th. century classical electrodynamics action-at-a-distance versus field theories

Fricke, Haworth (1982) Two rival programmes in 19th. century classical electrodynamics action-at-a-distance versus field theories. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

The thesis is a historical case-study in which I.Lakatos's Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes is applied to 19th. Century classical electrodynamics. Two research programmes are appraised. One, the Action-at-a-distance programme, had as its hard core the theory that electromagnetic phenomena were the outcome of sources acting at a distance across empty space on each other. Its rival, the Field programme, had the hard core that electromagnetic phenomena were the outcome of behaviour by the space between the apparent sources. It is argued that the Action-at-a-distance programme was always the superior one of the two. This revision in the standard historical appraisal results from the use of Lakatos's methodology. The Action-at-a-distance programme developed progressively, through the theories of Ampere, Weber, and their successors, to a satisfactory and fairly complete account of the phenomena of electrodynamics. In contrast, the Field programme degenerated as it consisted of a sequence of ad hoc or heuristically ad hoc theories. Faraday, Maxwell, and Helmholtz vigorously criticised the Action-at-a-distance programme. These criticisms were extremely influential and some historians regard them as persuasive today. It is shown that these criticisms are entirely without merit and further that they could easily have been seen to be without merit at the time of their proposal. Finally, many subsidiary theses, advocated by writers in the history and philosophy of the development of classical electrodynamics, are critically assessed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 1982 Haworth Martin Harrop Fricke
Library of Congress subject classification: Q Science > Q Science (General)
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/3430

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