In D. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy. MacMillan. pp. v. 2 461-464 (2006)
A conservation principles tell us that some quantity, quality, or aspect remains constant through change. Such principles appear already in ancient and medieval natural philosophy. In one important strand of Greek cosmology, the rotatory motion of the celestial orbs is eternal and immutable. In optics, from at least the time of Euclid, the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence when a ray of light is reflected. According to some versions of the medieval impetus theory of motion, impetus remains in a projected body (and the associated motion persists) permanently unless the body is subject to outside interference. These examples could be multiplied. But it was in the seventeenth century that conservation principles began to play an absolutely central role in scientific theories. Each of Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Christiaan Huygens, Gottfried Leibniz, and Isaac Newton founded his approach to physics upon the principle of inertia—that unless interfered with a body will undergo uniform rectilinear motion. A multitude of other conservation principles gained currency during the seventeenth century—some still with us, some long ago left behind. Descartes provides an interesting example of an author who attempted to derive all of his physical principles from conservation laws (Principles of Philosophy, see especially articles 36 to 42 of Part II). Descartes believed that the principles of his physics could be derived from the immutability of God, supplemented only by very weak assumptions about the existence of change in the world. He claims, in fact, that we ought to postulate the strongest conservation laws consistent with such change. These include.
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