Potentia, actio, vis: the Quantity mv2 and its Causal Role

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 100 (4):411-443 (2018)
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This article aims to interpret Leibniz’s dynamics project through a theory of the causation of corporeal motion. It presents an interpretation of the dynamics that characterizes physical causation as the structural organization of phenomena. The measure of living force by mv2 must then be understood as an organizational property of motion conceptually distinct from the geometrical or otherwise quantitative magnitudes exchanged in mechanical phenomena. To defend this view, we examine one of the most important theoretical discrepancies of Leibniz’s dynamics with classical mechanics, the measure of vis viva as mv2 rather than ½ mv2. This “error”, resulting from the limits of Leibniz’s methodology, reveals the systematic role of this quantity mv2 in the dynamics. In examining the evolution of the quantity mv2 in the refinement of the force concept from potentia to actio, I argue that Leibniz’s systematic limitations help clarify dynamical causality as neither strictly metaphysical nor mechanical but a distinct level of reality to which Leibniz dedicates the “dynamica” as “nova scientia”.



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Tzuchien Tho
Bristol University

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