Perpetuum mobile: The Leibniz-Papin controversy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


'Controversy' is here introduced as a technical term referring to one aspect of dispute. 'Controversy' is here understood as referring to an ongoing antagonistic exchange over a disagreement that cannot be readily resolved by the means at hand. However, the issue is being discussed because the participants believe that the controversy will be resolveable in the framework of a more advanced view which will be generated by the dispute. It is claimed that this 'controversy' merits study; it is not claimed that a dispute can be reduced to this aspect. In fact, it is shown that the dispute studied here involved intrigues in which personal and national prejudices served as weapons. The historical case study is a controversy conducted between G. W. Leibniz and Denis Papin. The first topic of the controversy, which began in 1689 and ended in 1691, was the 'measure of force', but it soon extended also to fundamental issues of mechanics and science in general: to the epistemological status of conservation laws, to the nature of abstractions in science etc. The study shows that far from being a 'logomachia', the 'vis viva controversy' reflected two exclusive legitimate interpretations of the conceptual system involved and enhanced both of them, preparing their 'Aufhebung' in a more elaborate and comprehensive system. An English translation of a not-yet published 'Synopsis Controversiae' by Denis Papin with annotations by Leibniz is attached as an appendix.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-637
Number of pages65
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2002


  • Conservation laws
  • Controversy
  • D. Papin
  • G.W. Leibniz
  • Vis viva


Dive into the research topics of 'Perpetuum mobile: The Leibniz-Papin controversy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this