Born: 1861. Died: 1916.
French physicist and philosopher and historian of science.
After studying at the École Normale Supérieure he taught at Lille (1887–1893), Rennes (1893–1894), and Bordeaux (1894–1916).
His extension and application of the thermodynamic potential to topics in chemistry ranks him among the founders of modern physical chemistry. His Traité d'énergétique générale (2 vol., 1911) aimed at a generalized, abstract thermodynamics that subsumed classical mechanics.
His major philosophical work, La théorie physique: Son objet, sa structure (1906), depreciates pictorial models in favor of an axiomatic approach, according to which a physical theory is not an explanation, but a system of mathematical propositions that represents experimental laws.
As a historian, Duhem discovered important currents of medieval thought in physics, cosmology, and astronomy, which he saw as precursors of the 17th century scientific revolution.
Most of Duhem’s work has not yet been translated into English. Selections from his works in French are available in the following English translations:
- The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, 1906
- The Evolution of Mechanics, 1902
- Medieval Cosmology: Theories of Infinity, Place, Time, Void and the Plurality of Worlds, 1985
- Mixture and Chemical Combination: And Related Essays, 1902
- The Origins of Statics, 1903
- To Save the Phenomena: An Essay on the Idea of Physical Theory from Plato to Galileo, 1908
- 1895, Sur la Pression Dans les Milieux Diélectriques ou Magnétiques, American Journal of Mathematics