Person: Duhem, Pierre Maurice Marie
Pierre Duhem was a French physicist, mathematician, historian and philosopher of science who worked on hydrodynamics and elasticity.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Duhem was ranked first in the entrance examinations of both institutions but he chose to please neither of his parents by studying pure scientific at the École Normale.
- When Hadamard arrived at the École Normale Duhem was beginning his third year of study there.
- In 1884, while still at the École Normale, Duhem published his first paper which was on electrochemical cells.
- Even before receiving his licence in mathematics, Duhem submitted his doctoral thesis in 1884.
- Quite correctly Duhem criticised Berthelot's theory putting forward a correct alternative.
- Sadly being right is not always good enough and a scientist as influential as Berthelot was able to arrange for Duhem's thesis to be rejected.
- Duhem knew he was right and boldly published the rejected thesis in 1886.
- This certainly did not help his relations with Berthelot, as one might imagine, and the bad news for Duhem was that Berthelot became French Minister of Education in 1886.
- Duhem meanwhile worked on a second thesis, this time wisely choosing a mathematical topic which was less likely to be affected by the fate of his first thesis.
- Before his second thesis was submitted Duhem was already teaching at Lille.
- Demartres, that Duhem requested a move from Lille and was appointed maître de conférence at Rennes in October 1893.
- It was all too human of Berthelot to protect that interpretation from Duhem's devastating criticism which, if delivered from a chair in Paris, would have forced Berthelot into the open.
- Herein lies the clue to the slighting which affected Duhem for thirty years, from his first doctoral dissertation to his very death, that is his whole academic career.
- Without a careful look at it a presentation of Duhem's life would not appear that poignant drama which it actually was.
- Hadamard had been in Bordeaux for a year when Duhem took up the chair there.
- Duhem himself returned to almost all these questions in the continuation of his immense work, and most of the theories which he had so happily and so clearly explained, suggested to him sometimes some observations on details, sometimes some additions of fundamental importance.
- One would have to add that Duhem's thesis was not the only reason that he did not achieve the appointment in Paris.
- As well as the scientific dispute, Duhem was at odds with Berthelot on religious issues too.
- Few scientists have contributed in works of leading importance, as Duhem did, to the philosophy of science, the historiography of science, and science itself.
- These comments, however, should not be taken as in any way lessening the importance of the views that Duhem put forward in all three areas of his interests.
- unification of theoretical physics: the thermodynamical potentials, the Lagrangian analytical formalism and Duhem's philosophical conception of theoretical physics.
- The mathematical aspects of this unification and Duhem's priority in the axiomatization of thermodynamics are emphasized.
- In many ways Duhem can be seen as very modern in his approach.
- As one might imagine, Duhem disagreed with Poincaré on many aspects of the philosophy of science and the two engaged in a vigorous debate.
- If scientific work itself led Duhem towards the philosophy of science, then in turn the philosophy of science led him towards the history of science.
- While working on Les origines de la statique Ⓣ(The origins of statics) in the late autumn of 1903, Duhem came across the scientist Jordanus Nemorarius who worked before Leonardo da Vinci.
- Until that time Duhem had accepted the commonly held view that there had been no scientific work in the Middle Ages.
- It was this surprise which led Duhem to look for other scientists who worked before the development of Renaissance mechanics.
- Duhem saw different national characteristics lead to different approaches to science.
- German sciences he claimed were highly geometrical, which for Duhem was a criticism for he considered an approach using an analytical style of mathematics to be far superior to a geometrical one.
- Late in his career Duhem was offered a professorship in Paris as a historian of science and not as a mathematical physicist.
- Duhem refused the chance to work in Paris that he had always longed for saying that he was a mathematical physicist and did not want to get to Paris through the back door.
Born 10 June 1861, Paris, France. Died 14 September 1916, Cabrespine, France.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive