mechanics: Early Mechanics

Mechanics was studied by a number of ancient Greek scientists, most notably Aristotle, whose ideas dominated the subject until the late Middle Ages, and Archimedes, who made several contributions and whose approach was quite modern compared to other ancient scientists. In the Aristotelian view, ordinary motion required a material medium; a body was kept in motion by the medium rushing in behind it in order to prevent a vacuum, which, according to this philosophy, could not occur in nature. Celestial bodies, on the other hand, were kept in motion through the vacuum of space by various agents that, in the Christianized version of Aquinas and others, acquired an angelic character.

This explanation was rejected in the 14th cent. by several philosophers, who revived the impetus theory proposed by John Philoponos in the 6th cent. AD; according to this theory a body acquired a quantity called impetus when it was set in motion, and it eventually came to rest as the impetus died out. The impetus school flourished in Paris and elsewhere during the 14th and 15th cent. and included William of Occam (Ockham), Jean Buridan, Albert of Saxony, Nicolas Oresme, and Nicolas of Cusa, although it was never successful in replacing the dominant Aristotelian mechanics.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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