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Practice of Science in 19th Century Britain & France

The manner in which science was practiced in Britain and France during the nineteenth centuries (and previously and subsequently as well) differed sharply. It may be said, broadly, that British science was rooted in mechanical modes of thought, whereas French science was rooted in mathematical modes of thought. British science might be typified by Michael Faraday, who addressed himself to the essentially mechanical problem of electromagnetis, whereas for French science we might choose Urbain Jean-Joseph Leverrier, who mathematically predicted the planet Neptune, subsequently found in the position he proposed.

The difference in the underlying approach taken to scientific endeavor in Britain and France had important effects not only on the specific means by which the scientists of the two countries attempted to solve scientific problems, but on the types of problems they sought to solve--British scientists gravitating toward problems that were mechanical in character, while French scientists attacked problems that were mathematical in character. More broadly, the difference of approach (which we will argue was rooted in an underlying difference of attitude) effected the kind of science they chose to do, including the fields in which the two countries excelled. Finally, the difference between mechanical and mechanical influenced the overall character of the contributions which the scientists of the two nations made to scientific knowledge.

What factors led to these national differences of emphasis? We may identify a number of factors, ranging from the historical traditions of science in the two countries, to the role of industrialization, to the manner in which scientific endeavor was organized and supported. In the remainder of this discussion, we will first look more closely at the differences between British and French science, then at the educational, political, and economic factors that may have motivated these diffe...

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Practice of Science in 19th Century Britain & France. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:03, July 01, 2022, from