Matthias Schemmel, "Medieval Representations of Change and Their Early Modern Application", in: Preprint Series Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Sciences, (2010), 3–26


The article investigates the role of symbolic means of knowledge representation in concept development using the historical example of medieval diagrams of change employed in early modern work on the motion of fall. The parallel cases of Galileo Galilei, Thomas Harriot, and René Descartes and Isaac Beeckman are discussed. It is argued that the similarities concerning the achievements as well as the shortcomings of their respective work on the motion of fall can to a large extent be attributed to their shared use of means of knowledge representation handed down from antiquity and the Middle Ages. While the interpretation of medieval diagrams was unproblematic in the scholastic context from which they arose, in the early modern context, which was characterized by the confluence of natural philosophy and practical mathematics, it became ambiguous. It was the early modern mathematicians’ work within this contradictory framework that brought about a new conceptualization of motion which, in particular, eventually led to an infinitesimal concept of velocity. In this process, the diagrams themselves remained largely unchanged and thus functioned as a catalyst for concept development.

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