Les lois de la nature à l''ge classique la question terminologique

Revue de Synthèse 122 (2-4):531-576 (2001)
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Four propositions relative to the laws of nature in the classical period must be noted. 1. Certain regularities in phenomena had been discovered. 2. A concept of law had emerged. 3. Classical science is characterized by the introduction of the notion of the legality of nature. 4. New uses of the word «law» had appeared in scientific texts. This article is devoted to the analysis of only this last proposition, that is to say to a terminological problem. First we will describe the semantic uses of the word «law» that may have contributed to the constitution of its classical meaning: its specific usage, disciplinary usage, usage in physics, in mathematics, in metaphysics. Second we will analyze the various moments of the diffusion of the word in the sciences in the xviith century. The general thesis defended in the end is that if the term «law» had indeed been used in science with no reference to a law-giving God prior to the xviith century, only this reference, that is, the coming together of its physical and its metaphysical usage, allowed its generalization in the period between the xviith and xviiith centuries.
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