The Norton Dome and the Nineteenth Century Foundations of Determinism

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The recent discovery of an indeterministic system in classical mechanics, the Norton dome, has shown that answering the question whether classical mechanics is deterministic can be a complicated matter. In this paper I show that indeterministic systems similar to the Norton dome were already known in the nineteenth century: I discuss four nineteenth century authors who wrote about such systems, namely Poisson, Duhamel, Boussinesq and Bertrand. However, I argue that their discussion of such systems was very different from the contemporary discussion about the Norton dome, because physicists in the nineteenth century conceived of determinism in essentially different ways: whereas in the contemporary literature on determinism in classical physics, determinism is usually taken to be a property of the equations of physics, in the nineteenth century determinism was primarily taken to be a presupposition of theories in physics, and as such it was not necessarily affected by the possible existence of systems such as the Norton dome.
modern, indeterminism, physics, indeterminism in classical physics in 19th century France
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Downstream publication: van Strien, Marij. (2014) "The Norton Dome and the Nineteenth Century Foundations of Determinism." Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 45(1), 167-185.