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Optics in the Age of Euler: Conceptions of the Nature of Light, 1700-1795by Casper Hakfoort
Synopses & Reviews
This book studies the eighteenth-century origins and early phase of a fundamental debate in optics: whether light is a particle or wave. Specifically, it is the first in-depth study of the contents and reception of Leonhard Euler's wave theory of light. The author shows that contrary to what has been assumed, the debate did not start in 1672 with Newton's particle theory of light. Rather, it only really got under way after Euler published his wave theory in 1746. He also corrects the misapprehension that Newton's theory was prevalently held in Germany in the early years of the debate, but really only became dominant around 1795. In his discussion, Professor Hakfoort demonstrates in dramatic fashion the relevance of chemical experiments on physical optics. Finally, in the epilogue, the author reflects on the mathematical, experimental, and metaphysical aspects of physical optics that shaped early modern science.
According to received historiography, the fundamental issue in eighteenth-century optics was whether light could be understood as the emission of particles or as the motion of waves in a subtle medium. Moreover, the emission theory of light was supposed to have been dominant in the eighteenth century, backed by Newton's physical arguments.This picture is enriched and qualified by focussing on the origins, contents, and reception of Leonhard Euler's wave theory of light published in 1746, here studied in depth for the first time. Contrary to what has been assumed, in an important sense, the particle-wave debate only starts with Euler. In addition, Euler's wave theory was the most popular theory in Germany for thirty-five years. Finally, when the emission view of light suddenly became dominant in Germany around 1795, new chemical experiments were crucial. Reflecting on the mathematical, experimental, and metaphysical aspects of physical optics, Casper Hakfoort provides as an epilogue a general picture of early modern science.
What is light? This book studies the eighteenth-century origins and early phases of this key debate in optics.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -234) and index.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements; 1. Introduction; 2. The debate on colours, 1672 — 1720; 3. Theoretical traditions in physical optics, 1700 — 45; 4. Eulerâ€™s 'Nova theoria' (1746); 5. The debate in Germany on the nature of light, 1740 — 95; 6. Epilogue: optics as a mirror of eighteenth-century science; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
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