• Guido Stam

    Although I do not doubt the majority of the published material on this subject is philosophical and not historical, is there truly a gap as you say? There have been lots of philosophical works on the laws of nature, some of them must have historicized the concept. And I have here in an article by Klaas van Berkel about Jacob Clay (Dutch philosopher / physicist), he already wrote a book in 1915 with the title: Schets eener kritische geschiedenis van het begrip natuurwet (Sketch of a critical history of the concept of law of nature), which proves that at least one philosopher has historicized the topic.

    I have found several other sources through a quick google search that seem to be exactly history of the concept of the laws of nature (although I haven’t looked in them at all whether they are truly relevant):
    Ruby, Jane E. “The origins of scientific ‘law’”. Journal of the history of ideas 47(1986):341–359.
    Milton, John R. “The origin and development of the concept of the ‘laws of nature’”. Archives européennes de sociologie (European journal of sociology) 22(1981):173–195.
    Oakley, Fransis. ‘Christian Theology and the Newtonian Science: The Rise of the Concept of the Laws of Nature.’ Church History, 1961. Creation: The Impact of as Idea. Ed. Daniel O’Conner et al. NY: 1969. 54-83.
    Harrison, Peter. ‘Newtonian Science, Miracles, and the Laws of Nature.’ Journal of the History of Ideas 56.4 (1995): 531.

    Finally, the most contemporary find, a book filled with German :
    Karin Hartbecke, Christian Schütte, Naturgesetze:Historisch-systematische Analysen eines wissenschaftlichen Grundbegriffs, Paderborn 2006 (featuring, amongst others, papers by Hüttemann, Heidelberger, and Hampe). TOC: http://www.mentis.de/download.php?media_id=00003494

    Yours,
    Guido Stam

    • Frans van Lunteren

      Hi Guido,

      Many thanks for your comments. Yes, I am familiar with Ruby, Milton, Oakley and Harrison, whose work (and that of some others) is mentioned in the Henry paper. These papers, however, restrict themselves to the seventeenth-century emergence of the concept and some earlier precedents. They illustrate my point that “most historians who did take an interest in the ‘laws of nature’ focused on the roots of this conception”. The interesting booklet by Clay is a somewhat idiosyncratic history, as Clay was under the spell of the neo-Hegelian philosopher Bolland at the time. However, I hadn’t noticed the Paderborn volume. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. Although most of the papers in this volume likewise discuss the early period, one or two seem to delve into more recent periods. I am not sure if they go a long way in answering the questions raised above (I even doubt that), but I will certainly try to lay my hands on the book. Perhaps it will lead to a sequel to this blog.
      Best wishes, Frans