This is a contribution towards a history and philosophy of modeling in its early stages in electromagnetism. In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) hinted at the methodology of modeling at the end of his Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. We focus on Maxwell's impact on physicists who immediately followed him, specifically Oliver Lodge (1851–1940) and George Francis FitzGerald (1851–1901). We begin with the role that the scientific concept of model played in the late nineteenth century, as assessed by Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906). We then discuss the role of hypothesis as a methodology, the appeal to (dynamical) illustration, and the way Maxwell applied model and working model in his studies of electromagnetism. We show that for Maxwell these key terms were kept distinct, but Lodge did not maintain these distinctions and, in this regard, FitzGerald followed Lodge. Notwithstanding Lodge's influence, Fitzgerald modified Maxwell's theory based on the mechanical model he designed, thereby implicitly taking the first step towards modeling. This methodology consists in drawing consequences from the (mechanical) model to the (electrodynamic) theory and modifying the latter in light of the functioning of the former. At the core of our argument is the thesis that it was a methodological novelty to move from the concept of model to the methodology of modeling. The introduction of modeling as a new methodology into physics in the late nineteenth century was a major event which deserves proper recognition.
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We thank two anonymous referees for helpful comments. One of us (GH) is grateful to the Institute Vienna Circle for its hospitality during the final stages of this research.
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd
- Mechanical illustration
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- History and Philosophy of Science