Ch 3: Leibniz

Leibniz’s mechanics was, as we shall see, a theory of elastic collisions, not formulated like Huygens’ in terms of rules explicitly covering every possible combination of relative masses and velocities, but in terms of three conservation principles, including (effectively) the conservation of momentum and kinetic energy. That is, he proposed what we now call (ironically enough) ‘Newtonian’ (or ‘classical’) elastic collision theory. While such a theory is, for instance, vital to the foundations of the kinetic theory of gases, it is not applicable to systems – like gravitational systems – in which fields of force are present. Thus, Leibniz’s mechanical principles never led to developments of the order of Newton’s in the Principia (additionally, he hamstrung their application by embedding them in a baroque philosophical system). All the same, I wish to demonstrate, against the tendency of many modern readers, that Leibniz’s responses to the Newtonians must be understood in the context of his theory of motion, not in terms of Newtonian mechanics. As we shall see, his problems lie primarily in his own physics, not in misunderstanding Newton’s.
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