Advances in Historical Studies
2014. Vol.3, No.1, 12-21
Published Online February 2014 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ahs) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ahs.2014.31003
Euler, Reader of Newton: Mechanics and Algebraic Analysis
Sébastien Maronn e1,2, Marco Panza3
1Institut de Mathématiques de Toulouse, Toul ous e, France
2Sciences Philosophie Histoire (SPHERE), Paris, France
3Institut d’Histoire et Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques, Paris, France
Email: Sebastien.Maronne@math.univ-toulouse.fr, email@example.com
Received July 29th, 2013; revised September 1st , 2013; accepted September 10th, 2013
Copyright © 2014 Sébastien Maronne, Marco Panza. This is an open access article distributed under the Crea-
tive Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any me-
dium, provided the original work is properly cited. In accordance of th e Creative Commons Attribution License
all Copyrights © 2014 are reserved for SCIRP and the owner of the intellectual property Sébastien Maronne,
Marco Panza. All Copyright © 2014 are guarded by law and by SCIRP as a guardian.
We follow two of the many paths leading from Newton’s to Euler’s scientific productions, and give an
account of Euler’s role in the reception of some of Newton’s ideas, as regards two major topics: mechan-
ics and algebraic analysis. Euler contributed to a re-appropriation of Newtonian science, though trans-
forming it in many relevant aspects. We study this re-appropriation with respect to the mentioned topics
and show that it is grounded on the development of Newton’s conceptions within a new conceptual frame
also influenced by Descartes’s views sand Leibniz’s formal i sm .
Keywords: Isaac Newton; Leonhard Euler; Newtonian Mechanics; Classical Mechanics; 18th-Century
The purpose of the present paper is to follow two of the
many paths leading from Newton’s to Euler’s scientific produc-
tions1 and to give, at least partly, an account of Euler’s role in
the reception of Newton as regards two major topics: mechan-
ics and algebraic analysis2. Euler contributed to a re-appropria-
tion of Newtonian science. We will study this re-appropriation
with respect to the mentioned topics and show that it is ground-
ed on the development of Newton’s ideas within a new con-
ceptual frame also influenced by Cartesian ideas and Leibnizian
From Newtonian Geometric Mechanics to
Euler’s works on mechanics concern different domains, some
of which are not considered in Newton’s Principia (Newton,
1687). Beside his Mechanica (Euler, 1736)—a two-volume
treatise on the motion of free or constrained punctual bodies—
and a large number of papers on the same subject, Euler also
much contributed to the mechanics of rigid and elastic bodies
(Truesdell, 1960), the mechanics of fluids, the theory of ma-
chines and naval science. We shall limit ourselves to some of
his contributions to the foundation of the mechanics of discrete
systems of punctual bodies. We shall namely consider his
views on the physical explanation of forces, his reformulation
of the basic notions of Newtonian mechanics, and his works on
the principle of least act io n .
The Explanation of Forces
The third book of Newton’s Principia offers an explanation
of the motion of planets around the sun and of the satellites
around them. It is based on the assumption that the celestial
bodies act upon each other according to an attractive force act-
ing at a distance, the intensity of which depends on the mass of
the attracting body and on its distance from the attracted one,
and the effects of which are not influenced by a resistant me-
dium. This is a special central force—a force attracting bodies
along a straight line directed towards a fixed or moving cen-
tre—characterised by the following well-known equality
is the force by which the body
are, respectively, the masses of
is the distance between (the centres of) them, and
is an universal constant.
In the first book of the Principia Newton provides a purely
mathematical theory of central forces acting in absence of a
resistance of the medium. In the third book, he is thus able to
The quasi-totality of Euler’s works is available online at the (Euler Ar
, where one may also find many notices and references. Among other
recent books devoted to Euler, cf.
(Bradley & Sandifer, 2007) and (Backer
2For reaso ns of space, we w ill not addr ess in this p aper some related t opics
’s views on Newt on’s gravi tation theor y and his own cel estial me
chanics, p arti cular ly his lu nar th eory; Euler
s reflecti ons abou t ( abs olu te and
e and time; and Euler’s critical exposition of Newtonian sci
ence in his
Lettres à une princesse d’Allemagne (Euler, 1768-1772
’s celestial mechanics, cf., for instance, (Schroeder, 2007)
. On this
matter, it is relevant to note that Euler had doubts in the 1740s about the
validity of Newton
’s law of grav itat ion becau se of error s he ob served in cal
culations of planetary perturbat ions
: cf. (Euler, 1743), Kleinert’s discus
of this memoir, in
(Euler, OO, ser. II, vol. 31, appendix), and (Schroeder
pp. 348-379). On Euler’s views on space and t ime, cf. also (Cassirer
, Book VII, Chapter II, section II) and (Maltese, 2000). Fi
Euler’s Lettres à une princesse d’Allemagne, cf. (Cal inger, 1976).
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
give a mathematical theory of the world system by basing it
only on the above assumption, that, according to him, is proved
by empirical observations. Insofar as it allows the determina-
tion of the trajectories of the relevant bodies according to the
mathematical theory of the first book, no supplementary hy-
pothesis about the nature of the relevant force is necessary. In
Newton’s view, an hypothesis about forces is a conjecture con-
cerning their qualitative nature and causes. His “Hypot heses
non fingo”—famously claimed in the General Scholium of the
second edition of the Principia—is just intended to declare that
he does not venture any such conjecture, since this is not nec-
essary to provide a satisfactory scientific explanation3.
Apparently, this view is not shared by Euler. He seems to
maintain that the notion of force cannot be primitive, and that a
mathematical theory about forces cannot be separated from an
account of their causes, even if this account depends more on
“the province of metaphysics than of mathematics” and thus
one cannot claim to undertake it with “absolute success”4.
Euler’s account—on which, cf. (Gaukroger, 1982)—is based
on a Cartesian representation of the world as a plenum of mat-
ter. Here is what he writes in his 55th letter to a German Prin-
As you see nothing that impels [small bits of iron and
steel] toward the loadstone, we say that the loadstone at-
tracts them; and this phenomenon we call attraction. It
cannot be doubted, however, that there is very subtle,
though invisible, matter, which produces this effect by
actually impelling the iron towards the lodestone [...].
Though this phenomenon be peculiar to the loadstone and
iron, it is perfectly adapted to convey an idea of the signi-
fication of the word attraction, which philosophers so
frequently employ. They allege then, that all bodies, in
general, are endowed with a property similar to that of the
loadstone, and that they mutually attract [...].
And then, in the 68th letter6:
[...] as we know that the whole space which separates the
heavenly bodies is filled with a subtle matter, called ether,
it seems more reasonable to ascribe the mutual attraction
of bodies to an action which the ether exercises upon them,
though its manner of acting may be unknown to us, rather
than to have recourse to an unintelligible property.
The Cartesian vein of Euler’s account is even clearer in the
Mechanica (Euler, 1736). It is very significant that in such a
purely mathematical treatise, Euler devotes a scholium to dis-
cuss the causes and origins of forces. This is the scholium 2 of
definition 10: the definition of forces, according to which, “a
force [potentia] is the power [vis] that either makes a body pass
from rest to motion or changes its motion.”7 This definition
does not explain where the forces come from; Scholium 2 dis-
cusses the question. Euler begins by declaring that, among the
real forces acting in the world, he only considers gravity. Then
he argues that similar forces “are observed to exist in the mag-
netic and electric bodies” and adds:
Some people think that all these [forces] arise from the
motion of a somehow subtle matter; others attribute [them]
to the power of attraction and repulsion of the bodies
themselves. But, whatever it may be, we certainly see that
forces of this kind can arise from elastic bodies and from
vortices, and we shall inquire, at the appropriate occasion,
whether these forces can be explained through these phe-
One could hope that Euler’s Cartesian view be made more
precise in a memoir presented in 1750 the title of which is
quite promising: “Recherches sur l’origine des forces” (Eu-
ler, 1750)9. But the content of this memoir is somewhat sur-
Euler begins by arguing that impenetrability is an essential
property of bodies, and that it “comes with a force sufficient to
prevent penetration”10. It follows—he says—that, when two
Of course, we do not mean here that Newton had
no views about the nature
of forces, or never expressed them. In the same
, namely in the
third of his
Regulæ Phil os oph an di
, opening t he third book (only added in the
second and third edition), he argues, for example, that inertia universally
belongs to all bodies. And in his third letter to Bentley, he explicitly writes
the following (we quote from
(Newton, LB, pp. 25-26)
; a transcription of the
original, kept at Trinity College Library, in Cambridge,
availabl e on lin e at
Newton Project website: www.newtonproject.sussex.ac.uk):
That gravity should be innate, inherent and essential to Matter, so that
one Body may act upon another at a Distance thro
’ a Vacuum
, without the
Mediation of any thing else, by and through which their Action or Force
may be conveyed from one to another is to me so great an Absurdity, that I
beleive no Man who has in philosophical Matters a competent Faculty of
thinking can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an Agent acting
constan tly according to certain Laws; but whether this Agent be material or
immateri al I have left to the Consideration of my Readers.
The point is that Newton does consider that the explanation of the nature of
forces is neither essential to his theory of gravitation, nor
a fortiori to hi
mathematical theory of motion. The last lines in the quoted passage of the
third letter to Bentley is, among many others, an explicit expression of this
cf. (Euler, LPAH, vol. I, p. 201). Here is Euler’s original (Euler, 1768-
vol. I, let
t. 68th, p. 265): “Il s’agit à présent d’approfon
dir la véritable source
de ces for ces att racti ves, ce qui appar tient p lutôt
à la Metaphysique qu’
Mathematiques; & je ne saurois me flatter d
’y reussir aussi heureuse
cf. (Euler, LPAH, vol. I, p. 165). Here is Euler’s original (Euler, 1768-
vol. I, lett. 55th, pp.
Comme on ne voit rien, qui les [de petits
morceaux de fer ou d
’acier] pousse vers l’aimant, on dit que l’
attire, & l
’action même, se nomme attraction. On ne sauroit douter cepe
’il n’y ait quel que mati ere très s ubtil e, quoiqu ’
invisible, qui produise
cet effet, en poussant effectivement le fer vers l
man; [...] Quoique ce
phénomene soit particulier à l
aimant, & au fer, il est tr ès propre à éclair cir
terme d’attraction, dont les Philosophes modernes se servent si freque
ment. Ils disent donc, qu
’une propriété semblable à celle de l’aimant, co
vient à tous les corps, en general, & que tous les corps au monde s
cf. (Euler, LPAH, vol. I, p. 203). Here is Euler’s original (Euler, 1768-
vol. I, lett. 68th, p.
268): “Puisque nous savons donc que tout l’
espace entr e
les corps célestes est rempli d
’une manière subtile qu’on nomme l’
semble plus raisonnable d
’attribuer l’attraction mu
tuelle des corps, â une
action que l
’éther y exerce, quoique la maniere nous soit incon
nue, que de
recourir a une qualité inintelligible.
On this same matter, cf. also the 75th
(Euler, 1768-1772, vol. I, pp. 297-298).
cf. (Euler, 1736, p. 39): “Potentia est vis corpus vel ex quiete in mo
perducens vel motum eius alterans.” Here and later, we slightly modify I.
Bruce’s translation available onl ine at http://www.17centurymaths.com .
cf. (Euler, 1736, p. 40): “Similes etiam potentiae deprehenduntur in cor
poribus magneticis et electricis inesse, quae certa tantum corpora attr
Quas omnes a motu materiæ cuiusdam subtilis oriri alii putant, alii ipsis
corporibus vim attrahendi et repellendi tribuunt. Quicquid autem sit, vid
mus certe ex corporib us elastici s et vorticib us huiusmod i potentias origine m
ducere posse, suoque loco inquiremus, num ex inde phaenomena haec p
tentiarum explicari pos sint.”
cf. also (Euler, 1746) and (Euler, 1765, Introduction)
. The chapter 2 of
Romero , 2007) presents a det ail ed s tudy o f (Euler, 1746) and (Euler,
(Gaukroger, 1982, pp. 134-138)
, an overview of the relevant parts of
Euler, 1765) is offered.
cf. (Euler, 1750, art. XIX, p. 428): “Aussi-
tot [...] qu’on reconnoit
corps, on est obligé d’avoüer que l’impénétrabilité est
accompagnée d’une force suffisante, pour empêcher la pénétration.”
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
bodies meet in such a way that they could not persist in their
state of motion without penetrating each other, “from the im-
penetrability of both of them a force arises that, by acting on
them, changes [...] [this] state11.” This being admitted, Euler
shows how to derive from this only supposition the well-known
mathematical laws of the shock of bodies. This he considers
enough to conclude that the changes in the state of motion due
to a shock of two bodies “are produced only by the forces of
impenetrability”12, so that, in this case, the origins (and cause)
of forces are just the impenetrability of bodies.
One would expect Euler to go on by describing a plausible
mechanical model allowing him to argue that this is also the
case of any other force, namely of central forces acting at a
distance. But this is not so. He limits himself to considering the
case of centrifugal forces which, not basing himself on any
argument, he takes to being all reducible to the case where a
body is deviated from its rectilinear motion because it meets a
vaulted surface (Euler, 1750, art. LI, p. 443). Finally he
If it were true, as Descartes and many other philosophers
have maintained, that all the changes that bodies can suf-
fer come either from the shock of bodies or from the
forces named “entrifugal”, we would now have clear ideas
about the origins of forces producing all these changes
[...]. I even believe that Descartes’ view would not be a
little reinforced by those reflections, since, after having
eliminated many imaginary forces with which philoso-
phers have jumbled the first principles of physics, it is
very likely that the other forces of attractions, adherence,
etc. are not better established.
[...] For, though nobody has been able to establish mani-
festly the cause of gravity and forces acting upon heav-
enly bodies through the shock or some centrifugal forces,
we should confess that neither has anybody proved the
impossibility of it. [...] Now it seems as strange to reason
since it is not proved by experience that two bodies sepa-
rated by a completely empty space mutually attract one
another through some forces14. Hence, I conclude that,
with the exception of forces whose spirits are perhaps able
to act upon bodies, which are probably of a quite different
nature, there is no other force in the world beside those
originated in the impenetrability of bodies.
Though advancing a non-Newtonian demand of explanation
of the nature and causes of forces15 and sharing both the Carte-
sian requirement of deriving “basic concepts of mechanics from
the essence of body” (Gaukroger, 1982, p. 139), and a Cartesian
conception of the world as a plenum of matter allowing a re-
duction of all forces to contact ones, Euler reaches thus a quite
Newtonian (and non-Cartesian) attitude only disguised by rhe-
toric. His main point is finally clear, indeed: a mathematical
science of motion is perfectly possible even in the ignorance of
the actual causes of the forces of attraction, and the only way to
ensure that there are reasons causing the forces are to show that
the consideration of these reasons leads to the well-known ma-
thematical laws of motion. These laws—rather than any possi-
ble mechanical model—are thus finally understood as the only
sure expression of the reality of the universe.
The Reformulation of Newton’s Me c hanics Usi ng
Leibniz’s Differential Calculus of and the
Introduction of Exte rnal Frames of Reference
As is well known, Newton’s mechanics is essentially geo-
metric. Curves are used to represent trajectories of punctual
bodies and a theorem is proved ensuring that non-punctual
bodies behave with respect to attractive forces as if their mass
were concentrated in their centre of gravity. Instantaneous
speeds are indirectly represented and measured by segments
taken on the tangents of the curves-trajectories. They are taken
to represent primarily the rectilinear space that a relevant point
would cover in a given time, finite or infinitesimally small, if
any force acting upon it ceased and the motion of this point
were thus due only to its inertia. An analogous form of indirect
representation and measure holds for any sort of force, or better
for their accelerative punctual component. This provides a very
simple way of composing forces and inertia, essentially based
on the parallelogram law that is primarily conceived as holding
for rectilinear uniform motions. When the consideration of time
is relevant, this is typically represented and measured by ap-
propriate geometric entities, like appropriate areas: for example
the areas that are supposed to be swept in that time by a vector
radius, in the case of a trajectory complying with Kepler’s sec-
To solve mechanical problems, this fundamental geometric
apparatus is of course not sufficient. Newton’s mechanics also
includes two other fundamental ingredients.
The first is a geometric method which allows to deal with
punctual and/or instantaneous phenomena and to determine
their macroscopic effects (like equilibrium configurations, ef-
fective trajectories, and continuously acting forces). It is pro-
vided by the method of prime and last ratios, together with a
number of appropriate devices.
The second ingredient is given by a number of fundamental
laws expressing some basic relation between bodies (or better
their masses), their motions, and the forces acting on them and
because of them. It is provided by Newton’s well known laws
of motion, occasionally supplemented by some principles—like
the principle of maximal descent of the centre of gravity—
cf. (Euler, 1750, ar t. XXV, p. 431): “
[...] à la rencontre de deux corps, qui
se pénétr eroient s
’ils continu oient à demeurer dan s leur état, il nait de l’im
pénetrabilité de l
’un et de l’
autre à la fois une force qui en agissant sur les
corps, change leur état.
2cf. (Euler, 1750, art. XLVI, p. 441): “
[...] dans le choc d es corps [. ..], il est
clair que les changements, que les corps y souffrent, ne sont produits que
leurs forces d
’impénetrabilité.” cf. also ibid. art. XLIV, p. 440.
cf. (Euler, 1750, arts. LVIII and LIX, pp. 446-447): “[...] s’
il étoit vrai,
comme Descartes et quantité d
’autres Philosophes l’ont soutenu
, que tous les
changements, qui arrivent aux corps, proviennent ou du choc des corps, ou
des forces nommées centrifuges; nous serions à present tout à fait éclaircis
origine d es forces , q ui opérent to us ces changemens [ ... ]. J e crois même
que le sentiment de Descartes ne sera pas médiocrement fortifié par ces
réflexions; car ayant retranché tant de forces imaginaires, dont les Philos
phes ont brouillé les premiers principes de la Physique, il est très pro
que les au tr es f or ces d
’attraction , d ’a
dhésion etc. ne sont pas mieux fondées.
LIX. Car quoique personne n
’ait encore été en état de démontrer évide
ment la cause de la gravité et des forces dont les corps celestes sont sollicités
par le ch
oc ou quelque force centrifugue; il faut pourtant avouer que pe
’en a non plus démontré l’
impossibilité. [...] Or que deux corps
’eux par un espace entiérement vuide s’attirent mu
par quelque force, semble aussi étrange à la raison, qu
est prouvé par
aucune expérience. A l
’exception donc des forces, dont les es
-être capables d’agir sur les corps, lesquelles sont sans doute d’
ature tout à fait différente, je conclus qu’il n’y a point d’
autres forces au
monde que celles, qui tirent leur origine de l
’impénétrabilité des corps.”
14About Euler’s opposition to action at distance, cf. (Wilson, 1992).
But we must keep in mind that Newton’
s rejection of any hypotheses about
the natu re and t he caus es of the gr avitatio nal fo rce onl y concern s the limited
domain of the mathematical principles of natural philosophy.
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
which are taken to follow from them.
Though these laws are still considered as the more funda-
mental ingredients of classical mechanics, what we call today
“Newtonian mechanics” is a quite different theory, reached
through a deep transformation and reformulation of Newton’s
original presentation. This transformation and reformulation
mainly occurred during the 18th century and they were very
much of Euler’s doing16. Giulio Maltese thus sums up the situa-
tion (Maltese, 2000, pp. 319-320):
In fact, it was Euler who built what we now call the
“Newtonian tradition” in mechanics, grounded on the
laws of linear and angular momentum (which Euler was
the first to consider as principles general and applicable to
each part of every macroscopic system), on the concept
that forces are vectors, on the idea of reference frame and
of rectangular Cartesian co-ordinates, and finally, on the
notion of relativity of motion.
This quotation emphasizes some basic ingredients of the
Newtonian mechanics of today. We shall come back in a mo-
ment on some of them. We will then observe that the gradual
emergence of these elements depends on a more basic trans-
formation (though perhaps, not so fundamental in itself). We
refer to the replacement of Newton’s purely geometric forms of
representation of motions, speeds and forces and of the con-
nected method of prime and last ratios by other forms of repre-
sentation and expression employing appropriate algebraic tech-
niques enriched by the formalism of Leibnitian differential
This transformation is often described as a passage from a
geometric to an analytic (understood as non-geometric) way of
presenting Newton’s mechanics. This is only partially true,
however. Though the use of algebraic and differential formal-
ism indeed allows the expression of the relation between the
relevant mechanical quantities through equations involving the
two inverse operators
submitted to a number of
easily applicable rules of transformation, these equations are
part of mechanics only if the symbols that occur in them take
on a mechanical meaning. It is just the way in which this
meaning is explained—and not the mere use of this formal-
ism—that decides whether the adopted presentation is geomet-
ric or not.
For example, it is not enough to identify the punctual speed
of a certain motion with the differential ratio
to get a non-
geometric definition of speed: whether this definition is geo-
metric or not depends on the way in which this ratio, and
namely the differential
, are understood. If this differential
is taken to be an infinitesimal difference in the length of a cer-
tain variable segment represented by an appropriate geometric
diagram and indicating the direction of the speed in respect to
another component of this diagram, the definition is still geo-
This is exactly what happens in the first attempts to apply
differential formalism to Newtonian mechanics, like those of
Varignon, Johann Bernoulli, and Hermann17: the language of
differential calculus is used to speak of mechanical configura-
tions represented by appropriate geometric diagrams and its
rules are applied in order to get the relevant quantitative rela-
tions between the elements depicted in these diagrams (Panza,
2002). Like in Newton’s Principia, mechanical problems are
thus, in these essays, distinguished from each other according
to specific features manifested by the corresponding diagrams.
Hence, differences in the problems depend on differences in the
This fragmentation of mechanics into several problems geo-
metrically different is still particularly evident in Hermann’s
Phoronomia (Hermann, 1716), which Euler considers as the
main treatise on dynamical matters written after the Principia.
This is just what Euler wants to avoid in his Mechanica. Here is
what he writes in the preface18:
[...] what distracts the reader the most [in Hermann’s
Phoronomia] is that everything is carried out [...] with
old-fashioned geometrical demonstrations [...]. Newton’s
Principia Mathematica Philosophiae are composed in a
scarcely different way [...]. But what happens with all the
works composed without analysis is particularly true with
those which pertain to mechanics. In fact, the reader, even
when he is persuaded of the truth of the things that are
demonstrated, nonetheless cannot reach a sufficiently
clear and distinct knowledge of them. So he is hardly able
to solve the same problems with his own strengths, when
they are changed just a little, if he does not research into
the analysis and if he does not develop the same proposi-
tions with the analytical method. This is exactly what of-
ten happened to me, when I began to examine Newton’s
Principia and Hermann’s Phoronomia. In fact, even
though I thought that I could understand the solutions to
numerous problems well enough, I could not solve prob-
lems that were slightly different. Therefore, in those years,
I strove, as much as I could, to arrive at the analysis be-
hind those synthetic methods, and to deal with those
propositions in terms of analysis for my own purposes.
Thanks to this procedure I perceived a remarkable im-
provement of my knowledge.
A major purpose of Euler’s Mechanica is to use Leibnitian
differential formalism (which is what he calls “analytic me-
thod”) in order to generalise some of Newton’s results. Euler
aims to arrive at some general procedures which allow him to
solve large families of problems. He also looks for some rules
for use in appropriate circumstances to determine, in a some-
what automatic way, appropriate expressions for relevant me-
6As N. Guicciardini has remarked (Guicciardini, 1999, p. 6), “
s mathematical methods belong definitely to what is past and
7On these essays, cf. (Aiton, 1989), (Blay, 1992), (Guicciar dini, 1995)
Guicciardini, 1996), (Mazzone & Roero , 1997).
A large part of this passage is quoted and translated by N. Guicciardini in
Guicciardini, 2004, p. 245). We quote his translation by adding a transla
tion of the par
t he does not quote that slightly differs from Bruce’
7]. Here is Euler’s original (Euler, 1736, Præfatio): “
lectorem maxime distinet, omnia more veterum [...] geometricis demonstr
tionibus est persecutus [...]. Non multum dissimili quoque modo conscripta
Principia Mathematica Philosophiae
[...]. Sed quod omnibus
scriptis, quæ sine analysi sunt composita, id potissimum Mechanicis obti
ut Lector, etiamsi de veritate eorum, quæ proferuntur, convi
non sati s claram et distinct am eorum cognitio nem assequatur, i ta ut easdem
quaestiones, si tantillum immutentur, proprio marte vix r
solvere v aleat, n isi
ipse in analysin inquirat easdemque propositiones an
lytica met h o do evolvat
Idem omnino mihi, cum Neutoni
Principia et Hermanni Phoronomiam per
lustrare cœ o ep i ssem, usu v eni t , ut, quamvis plurium pr ob l em at u m sol
satis percepisse mihi viderer, tamen parum tantum discrepantia pro
resolvere non potuerim. Illo igitur iam tempore, quantum potui, conatus sum
analysin ex synthetica illa methodo elicere easdemque propos
meam util itatem analytice p ertractare, quo negotio in signe cogn
tionis mea e
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
In order to reach this aim, Euler identifies punctual speeds
and accelerations with first and second differential ratios, re-
spectively, and introduces an universal measure of a punctual
speed given by the altitude from which a free falling body has
to fall in order to reach such a speed.
The basic elements of Newton’s mechanics appear in Euler’s
treatise under a new form, quite different from the original.
Nevertheless, in this treatise, mechanical problems are still
tackled by relying on intrinsic coordinates systems: speeds and
forces are composed and decomposed according to directions
that are dictated by the intrinsic nature of the problem, for ex-
ample so as to calculate the total tangential and normal forces
with respect to a given trajectory. This approach is quite natural,
but limits the generality of possible common rules and prin-
A new fundamental change occurs when extrinsic reference
frames, typically constituted by triplets of orthogonal fixed
Cartesian coordinates, are introduced and when the relativity of
motion is conceived to be the invariance of its laws with respect
to different frames submitted to uniform retailer motions.
Though this change was in fact a collective and gradual trans-
formation (Meli, 1993) and (Maltese, 2000, p. 6), Euler played
a crucial role in it. Among other important contributions con-
nected with this change—described and discussed in (Maltese,
2000)—, it is important to consider his introduction of today’s
usual form of Newton’s second law of motion. This is the ob-
ject of a memoir presented in 1750: “Découverte d’un nou-
veau principe de mécanique” (Euler, 1750).
The argument that Euler offers in this memoir in order to jus-
tify the introduction of his “new principle” is so clear and apt to
elucidate the crucial importance of this new achievement that it
deserves to be mentioned. The starting point of this argument is
the insufficiency of the tools provided both by Newton’s Pri n-
cipia and by Euler’s own Mechanica for studying the rotation
of a solid body around an axis continuously changing its posi-
tion with respect to the elements of the body itself. To study
this motion, Euler argues, new principles are needed and they
have to be deduced from the “first principle or axioms” of me-
chanics, which, he says, cannot but concern the rectilinear mo-
tion of punctual bodies (Euler, 1750, art. XVIII, p. 194). The
problem is precisely that of formulating these axioms in the
most appropriate way to allow an easy deduction of all the oth-
er principles that are needed to study the different kinds of mo-
tion of the different kinds of bodies. According to Euler, these
axioms are reduced to an unique principle, and his new one is
This principle is expressed by a triplet of equations that ex-
press Newton’s second law with respect to the three orthogonal
directions of a reference frame independent of the motions to be
studied (Euler, 1750, art. XXII, p. 196):
is the mass of the relevant punctual body,
are the total forces acting along the directions of the
threes axes and 2 is a factor of normalization.
To understand the fundamental role that Euler assigns to
this principle, a simple example is sufficient (Euler, 1750,
art. XXIII, p. 196): from
, one gets, by inte-
Mdx=Adt;Mdy =Bdt;Mdz =Cdt,
are integration constants. It is thus proved
that, in this case, the speed is constant in any direction so that
the motion of any body on which no force acts is rectilinear and
uniform, as Newton’s first law asserts19.
A New Sort of Principles: Euler’s Program for
Founding Newton’s Mechanics on
Though fairly powerful, Euler’s new principle only directly
deals with single punctual bodies. Let’s consider a system of
several punctual bodies mutually attracting each other and pos-
sibly submitted to some external forces and internal constraints.
In order to get the conditions of equilibrium or the equations of
motions of such a system by relying on Euler’s principle, a
detailed and geometric analysis of all the forces operating in
this system is necessary. A fortiori, this is also the case of any
other principle dealing with single punctual bodies set in New-
ton’s Principia and in Euler’s Mechanica. Hence, the study of
any particular system of several punctual bodies through these
principles requires a geometrical analysis of forces that differs
from system to system. Consequently, only fairly simple sys-
tems can be studied in such a way.
This is the reason why the need of a new sort of mechanical
principles—directly concerned with whatever system of several
punctual bodies—arose quite early. A similar principle, that
would be later known as the principle of virtual velocities, was
suggested by Johann Bernoulli in a letter to Varignon of Janu-
ary, 26th 1711 (Varignon, 1725, vol. II, pp. 174-176). But a
clear statement of the difference between these two kinds of
principles only appears in a memoir presented by Maupertuis in
If Sciences are grounded in certain immediately easy and
clear principles, from which all their truths depend, they
also include other principles, less simple indeed, and often
difficult to discover, but that, once discovered, are very
useful. They are to some extent the Laws that Nature fol-
lows in certain combinations of circumstances, and they
teach us what it will do in similar occasions. The former
principles need no proof, because they become obvious as
soon as the mind examines them; the latter could not have,
9To appreciate the crucial difference between Euler’
s new principle and
’s second law of motion, asserting that “A change in motion is pro
portional to the motive force impressed and takes place along the straight
line in wh ich th e force is ex press ed [Mu tation em mot us propo rtiona lem ess e
vi motrici impressæ
, et fieri secundum lineam rectam qua vis illa imprimi
]” (Newton, PMCW, p. 12); (Newton, 1687,
p. 416), remark that, by
pposing the motive force
to be null, one can only deduce from this la s t l aw
that the relevant motion is not changed, that is, it is inertial, but not that it is
rectilinear uniform. To reach this conclusion, one has also to rely on Ne
’s first law, which just fixes the nature of inertial motion: “
preserves in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight fo
except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces i
Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel
, nisi quatenus a viribus impressis cogitur statum illum mutare]
0cf. (Maupertuis, 1740, p. 170): “Si les Sciences sont fondées sur cer
principes simples et clairs dès le premier aspect, d
’où dépendent toutes
vérités qui en son t l
’objet, ell es ont en cor e d’
autres princi pes, moi ns s imples
à la vérité, etsouvent difficiles à découvrir, mais qui étant une fois déco
verts, sont d
’une très-grande utilité. Ceux-
ci sont en qu elque façon les Loix
que la Nature su
it dans certaines combinaisons de circon
stances, et nous
apprennent ce qu
elle fera dans de semblables occasions. Les premiers
ncipes n’ont guére besoin de Démonstration, par l’
évidence do nt ils sont
dès que l
’esprit les examine; les derniers ne sçauroient avoir de Démonstr
tion physique à la rig ueur, parce qu
’il est impossible de parco urir général
ment tous les cas où ils ont lieu. ”
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
strictly speaking, a physical proof, since it is impossible to
consider in general all cases to which they apply.
The aim of Maupertuis’s memoir is to suggest a new princi-
ple of the second kind, asserting that the equilibrium of any
punctual bodies is obtained if an appropriate sum
is maximal or minimal. This sum is
is the mass of the
, ... ,
forces acting upon it, and
are the distances of this
body from the centres of these forces, respectively. This is the
first, static, version of the principle of least action.
Maupertuis’s memoir originated quite an important program
concerned with the foundation of mechanics, leading—through
d’Alembert, Euler, and Lagrange, among others—to Hamil-
ton’s well-known version of Newton’s mechanics (Fraser,
1983), (Fraser, 1985), (Szabó, 1987), (Pulte, 1989), (Panza,
1995), (Panza, 2003).
Euler’s contributions to this program were essential and con-
cerned three major aspects:
the elaboration of an appropriate mathematical tool for
dealing with extremality conditions relative to integral forms
including unknown functions;
the generalisation of Maupertuis’s principle so as to get a
general principle apt to provide the equations of motion of
any system of several punctual bodies and also applicable,
mutatis mutandis, to the solution of other mechanical prob-
the justification of such a principle.
In Euler’s view, these three aspects are intimately connected.
His first contribution to this matter comes from his Methodus
inveniendi (Euler, 1744): a treatise providing the first systema-
tisation of what is known, after Lagrange, as the calculus of
variations21. The two appendixes to this treatise are solely de-
voted to enquiring the possibility of studying, respectively, the
behaviour of an elastic band and the motion of an isolated body
when they are submitted to forces, by relying on a general prin-
ciple asserting that “absolutely nothing happens in the world, in
which a condition of maximum or minimum does not reveal
itself”22. Euler’s main aim is not to find new results concerned
with these problems, but to show how some already known
results can be derived from a condition of maximum or mini-
mum for an integral form. The particular nature of this condi-
tion in the cases considered is taken to clarify the way in which
a principle, which is analogous to Maupertuis’s one, can be
stated in these cases and then, if possible, generalised. This
same approach also governs Euler’s other works on the prince-
ple of least action: c f. in particular (Euler, 1748), (Euler, 1748),
(Euler, 1751), (Euler, 1751), and (Euler, 1751).
Euler’s and Maupertuis’s approaches are contrastive. Mau-
pertuis is mainly interested in looking for metaphysical and
theological arguments (Maupertuis, 1744), (M aup ertuis, 1746),
(Maupertuis, 1750), (Maupertuis, 1756). Indeed, he aims to
support his claim to have found the very quantity in which Na-
ture is thrifty, and thus the real final cause acting in it. Euler is
looking for mathematical invariances of the form
emerging in different conditions and from which already known
results regarding different mechanical problems can be drawn.
Euler’s main idea is thus that of looking for an appropriate
mathematical way to state a new principle that, being in agree-
ment with several results obtained through Newton’s original
method of analysis of forces, could be generalised so as to get a
principle of a new sort, namely a general variational principle.
This research constituted a major event in the history of me-
chanics for it allowed to pass from a geometrical-based study of
a particular concrete system to an analytical treatment of any
sort of system based on an unique and general equation. In our
view, these are the most fundamental origins of analytical me-
chanics (Panza, 2002). Lagrange’s first general formulation of
the principle of least action (Lagrange, 1761) essentially de-
pends on the results obtained by Euler in this way.
Among the many well-known differences between Newton’s
and Leibniz’s approaches to calculus, a fairly relevant one deals
with their opposite conceptions about its relation with the
whole corpus of mathematics. Whereas Leibniz often stressed
the novelty of his differential calculus, notably because of its
special concern with infinity. Newton always conceived his
results on tangents, quadratures, punctual speeds and connected
topics as natural extensions of previous mathematics.
Newton’s first research on these matters was explicitly based
on the framework of Descartes’ geometry and geometrical al-
gebra provided in La Géométrie (Descartes, 1637). It mainly
dates back to the years 1664-1666 (Panza, 2005), but culmi-
nates with the composition of the De analysis in 1669 (Newton,
MWP, vol. II, pp. 206-247) and of the De methodis in 1671
(Newton, MWP, vol. III, pp. 32-353), where the new theory of
fluxions is exposed.
Later, Newton famously changed his mind about the respec-
tive merits of Descartes’ new way of making geometry and the
classical (usually considered as synthetic) approach, especially
identified with the style of Apollonius’ Conics (Galuzzi, 1990;
Guicciardini, 2004), and based the Principia on the method of
first and ultimate ratios, which he took to be perfectly compati-
ble with this last approach23. Finally, in the more mature pres-
entation of the theory of fluxions, the De quadratura curvarum
(Newton, 1704)24, Ne wton stresses explicitely25:
[...] To institute analysis in this way and to investigate the
first or last ratios of nascent or vanishing finites is in
harmony with the geometry of the ancients, and I wanted
to show that in the method of fluxions there should be no
need to introduce infinitely small figures into geometry.
The De methodis begins as follows26:
1On Euler’s version of the calculus of variations, cf. (Fraser, 199
Fraser has also devoted many works to the history of the calculus of varia-
tion. A general survey of his result is offered in
(Fraser, 2003 ).
cf. (Euler , 1744, p. 245): “nihil omnino in mundo contingint,
in quo non
maximi minimive ratio q uæ piam e l uceat.”
In the concl uding lemma of th e section I of book I of the Principia, Ne
ton claims that he proved the lemmas to which his method pertains
to avoid the tedium of working out lengthy proofs by
reductio ad absurdum
in the ma nner of the Ancient geome te rs
” (Newton, PMCW, p. 441).
See also (Newton, MWP, Vol. VIII, pp. 92-168).
cf. (Newton, MWP, VIII, p. 129): “[...] Analysin sic instituere, & finite
rum nascentium vel evanescentium rationes primas v
el ultimas inves
consonum est Geometriæ Veterum: & volui ostendere quo in Met
Fluxionum non opus sit figuras infinite parvas i n Geomet ri am introdu
cf. (Newton, 1670-1671, pp. 32-33): “Animadvertenti plerosque Geo
metras [...] Analyticæ
excolendæ plurimum incumbere, et ejus ope tot tan
tasque d ifficultates superasse [ ...]: placu it sequenti a quibus campi analytici
inos expandere juxta ac curvarum doctrinam promovere
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
Observing that the majority of geometers [...] now for the
most part apply themselves to the cultivation of analysis
and with its aid have overcome so many formidable diffi-
culties [...] I found it not amiss [...] to draw up the fol-
lowing short tract in which I might at once widen the
boundaries of the field of analysis and advance the doc-
trine of curves.
In the early-modern age, the term “analysis” and its cognates
were used in mathematics in different, though strictly con-
nected, senses. Two of them were dominant in the middle of
17th century. Analysis, in the first sense, refers to the first part
of a twofold method—the method of analysis and synthesis—
paradigmatically expounded in the 7th book of Pappus Mathe-
matical Collection (Pappus, CMH). In the second sense, it re-
fers to a new domain of mathematics the introduction of which
was typically ascribed to Viète, who had explicitly identified it
with a “new algebra” (Viete, 1591).
In our view, this discipline should be considered more as a
family of techniques for making both arithmetic and geometry
(Panza, 2007a), than as a separate theory somehow opposed to
arithmetic and geometry. In the previous passage, Newton is
undoubtedly referring to this discipline and he is claiming that
his treatise aims to extend it so as to make it appropriate for
However, this extension crucially depends not only on the
addition of new techniques, based on Descartes’ algebraic for-
malism, but a lso on a new conception about quantities, accord-
ing to which mathematics should deal not only with particular
sorts of quantities, such as numbers, segments, etc., but also
with quantities purely conceived, that is, with fluents (Panza,
Hence, in the De methodis, the extended “field of analysis”
no longer presents itself as a family of powerful techniques, but
it rather takes the form of a new theory dealing with quantities
purely conceived. These quantities are supposed to belong to a
net of operational relations expressed through Descartes’ alge-
braic formalism appropriately extended so as to include infini-
tary expressions like series.
Euler’s Theory of Functions
Newton’s later opposition to Descartes’ way of doing ge-
ometry and the independence of the mathematical method of
first and ultimate ratios from the analytic formalism of the the-
ory of fluxions—in the presence of the well-known Newton-
Leibniz priority quarrel and its consequences—lead, in the 18th
century, to a polarisation between two ways of understanding
calculus. A Newtonian way, based on a classic conception of
geometry, conceives fluxions as ratios of vanishing quantities.
A Leibnitian way, based on the introduction of an appropriate
new formalism, deals with infinitesimals.
Maclaurin’s Treatise of fluxions (Maclaurin, 1742) is usually
pointed out as the major example of the Newtonian view. “Flu-
xional ‘computations’ are not presented as a blind manipulation
of symbols, but rather as meaningful language that could al-
ways be translated into the terminology of [...] [a] kinematic-
geometric model” (Guicciardini, 2004, pp. 239-240).
In contrast, Euler’s trilogy composed by the Introductio in
analysin infinitorum, the Institutiones calculi differentialis, and
the Institutionum calculi integralis (Euler, 1748), (Euler, 1755),
(Euler, 1768) is indicated as the major example of the Leibni-
Nonetheless the two traditions were not as opposed, and the
respective scientific communities were not as separated as it
has been too often claimed. A clear example of this—which is
mainly relevant here—is provided by Euler’s approach.
Though there is no doubt that the theory expounded by Euler in
the Institutiones and in the Institutionum uses Leibniz’s differ-
ential and integral formalism, some of the basic conceptions it
is founded on derive from Newton’s views.
Some of these conceptions are strictly internal to the organi-
sation of the theory. An example is provided by Euler’s idea
that the main objects of differential calculus are not differen-
tials of variables quantities but differential ratios of functions
conceived as ratios of vanishing differences (Ferraro, 2004). As
he writes in the preface of the Institutiones27:
Differential calculus [...] is a method for determining the
ratio of the vanishing increments that any functions take
on when the variable, of which they are functions, is given
a vanishing increment [...] Therefore, differential calculus
is concerned not so much with vanishing increments,
which indeed are nothing, but with their mutual ratio and
proportion. Since these ratios are expressed as finite quan-
tities, we must think of calculus as being concerned with
In this way, Euler unclothes Newton’s notion of prime or ul-
timate ratio of its classically geometric apparel and transfers it
to a purely formal domain using the language of Leibniz’s dif-
Another strictly connected example comes from Euler’s de fi-
nition of integrals as anti-differentials and of the integral calcu-
lus as the “me tho d” to be applied for passing “from a certain
relation among differentials to the relation of their quantities”,
that is, in the simplest case (Euler, 1768), definitions 2 and 1,
= =.yf xzdx
These definitions—which contrast with Leibniz’s conception
of the integral as a sum of differentials—are instead clearly in
agreement with the second problem of Newton’s De methodis:
“when an equation involving the fluxions of quantities is exhib-
ited, to determine the relation of the quantities one to an- oth-
The closeness of Euler’s and Newton’s views in both those
examples depends on a more fundamental concern: the idea that
both differential and integral calculus are part of a more general
theory of functions (Fraser, 1989).
This theory is exposed by Euler in the first volume of the In-
7We slightly modify Blanton’s translation (Euler, ICDB , p. vii
). Here is
’s original (Euler, 1755, p. VIII): “[...] calculi Differentialis [...
terminandi rationem incrementorum evanescentium, quæ func
tiones qæ cunque accipiunt, dum quantitati variabili, cuius sunt functiones,
tum evanescens tribuitur [...]. Calculus igitur differentialis non tam
in his ipsis incrementis evanescentibus, quippe quæ sunt nulla, exquirendis,
quam in eorum ratione ac proportione mutua scrutanda occupatur: et cun hæ
tiones finitis quantitabus exprimantur, etiam hic calculus circa quantitates
finitas versari est cens
cf. (Newton, 1670-1671, pp. 82-83):
“Exposita Æquatione fluxiones
quantitatum involvente, invenire relationem quantitatum inter se”. On
wton’s notion of primitive, cf. (Panza, 2005, pp. 284-293, 323-
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
troductio (Euler, 1748). According to him, it is not merely a
mathematical theory among others. It is rather the fundamental
framework of the whole of mathematics. Differential calculus is
thus not conceived by Euler as a separated theory characterised
by its special concern with infinity, as in Leibniz’s conception,
but rather as a crucial part of an unitary building the founda-
tions of which consist of a theory of functions (Panza, 1992).
As a matter of fact, this theory comes in turn from a large
and ordered development of the results that Newton had pre-
sented in his De methodis before attaching the two main prob-
lems of the theory of fluxions, and that provided for him the
base on which its extended “field of ana lysis” was grounded. A
function is identified with an expression indicating the opera-
tional relations about two or more quantities and expressing a
quantity purely conceived (Panza, 2007b). And the fundamental
part of the theory concerns the power series expansions of
Though the language and the formalism that are used in Eu-
ler’s trilogy openly come back to the Leibnitian tradition, such
a trilogy should thus be viewed, for many and fundamen- tal
reasons, as a realisation of the unification program that Newton
had foreseen in the De methodis, a realisation that re- lies,
moreover, on the basic idea underlying Newton’s method of
prime and last ratios.
The Classification of Cubics and Algebraic Curves
The second volume of the Introductio (Euler, 1748) is de-
voted to algebraic curves: the curves expressed by a polynomial
equation in two variables when referred to a system of rectilin-
ear coordinates. Euler relies on some results obtained in the
first volume to show that algebraic curves can be studied and
classified without making use of calculus: as a matter of fact,
this marks the birth of algebraic geometry.
The problem of the classification of curves is quite ancient
(Rashed, 2005). However, in his Géométrie (Descartes, 1637),
Descartes returns to it in a new form: he concentrates only on
algebraic curves (that he calls “geometric”, whereas he recom-
mends to reject from geometry other curves, termed “mechani-
cal”) and bases his classification on the degree of the corre-
sponding equation (Bos, 2001, pp. 356-357), (Rashed, 2005, pp.
32-50). This is, in fact, quite a broad classification, since equa-
tions of the same degree can express curves which look very
different from each other. The classification of (non-degenerate)
conics (the algebraic curves whose equations are the irre-
ducible ones of degree 2) is well known: they split up into
ellipses (including circles), parabolas and hyperbolas. But
what about curves expressed by equations of higher de-
Newton answers the question for cubics (the algebraic curves
whose equations are the non-reducible ones of degree 3), in a
tract appeared in 1704 as an appendix to the Opticks (Newton,
1704), but the different stages of composition of which pre-
sumably date back to 1667-1695 (Newton, MWP, vol. VII, p.
565-655): the Enumeratio Linearum Tertii Ordinis (Newton,
In the second volume of the Introductio, Euler tackles the
same problem using a quite different method, and shows that
Newton’s classification is incomplete (Euler, 1748, vol. II, Ch.
9). He also provides an analogous classification of quartics (the
algebraic curves whose equations are the non-reducible ones of
degree 4), and explains how the method used for classifying
cubics and quartics can, in principle, be applied to algebraic
curves of any order (Euler, 1748, Vol. II, ch. 11 and 12-14,
Whereas Newton’s classification of cubics is based on their
figure in a limited (i.e. finite) region of the plane and depends
on the occurrences of points or line singularities as for instance
nodes, cusps, double tangents, Euler suggests classifying alge-
braic curves of any order by relying on the number and on the
nature of their infinite branches. Here is what he writes29:
Hence, we reduced all third order lines to sixteen species,
in which, therefore, all those of the seventy-two species in
which Newton divided the third order lines are con-
tained30. It is not odd, in fact, that there is such a differ-
ence between our classification and Newton’s, since we
obtained the difference of species only from the nature of
branches going to infinity, while Newton considered also
the shape of curves within a bounded region, and estab-
lished the different species on the basis of their diversity.
Although this criterion may seem arbitrary, however, by
following his criteria Newton could have derived many
more species, whereas using my method I am able to draw
neither more nor less species.
Euler’s last remark alludes to much more than what it says.
He rejects Newton’s criterion because of the impossibility of
applying it as the order of curves increases, since so great a
variety of shapes arise, as witnessed by the mere case of cubics.
Indeed, a potentially general criterion has to deal with some
properties of curves that can be systematically and as exhaus-
tively as possible explored in any order, like those of infinite
branches, according to Euler.
This task could be difficult, however, if these curves were
studied through their equations taken as such, since the com-
plexity of a polynomial equation in two variables increases very
quickly with its order. Insofar as a polynomial equation in two
variables cannot be transformed by changing its global degree
so that it continues to express the same curve, Euler shows how
to determine the number and nature of infinite branches of a
curve by considering its equation for some appropriate trans-
formations that lower its degree in one variable, namely “both
by choosing the most convenient axis and the most apt inclina-
tion of the coordinates”, and attributing to a variable a conven-
9We slightly modify Blanton’s translation (Euler, IAIB, Vol. II, p.
Here is Eul er
’s original ( cf. Euler, 1748, Vol. II, 236 , p. 123): “
Lineas tertii ordinis reduximus ad Sedeciem Species, in quibus pro
omnes illæ Species Septuagin ta dua, in quas Newtonus Lineas tertii ordinis
divisit, continentur. Quod vero inter hanc nostram divisionem ac Newtonia-
nam tantum intercedat discrimen mirum non est; hic enim tantum ex ramo-
rum in infinitum excurrentium indole Specierum diversitatem desu
Newtonus quoque ad statum Curvarum in spatio finito spec-
atque ex hujus varietate diversas Species constituisset. Quanquam autem hæ
c divisionis ratio arbitraria videtur, tamen Newtonus suam tandem rationem
sequens multo plures Species producere
potuisset, cum equidem mea m
thodo utens neque plures neque pauciores Species eruere queam.
0This is the reason why Euler prefers to use the term “genre”
species” in order to indicate his classes of curves. The latter terms is re
served to distinguish curves of a given genre according to their shape in a
limited region of the plane (Euler
, 1748, vol. II,
238, p. 126).
Once again, we slig htly modify Blanton’s translation (Euler, IAIB, Vol.
176). Here is Euler’s original (Euler , 1748, Vol. II , 272, p. 150): “Neg
tium autem hoc per reductionem æ quationis ad formam simpliciorem, dum
et Axis commodissimus, et inclinatio Coordinatarum aptissima ass
valde sublevari potest: tum etiam, quia perinde est, utra
Absciss a accipiatur, labo r maxime dimin uetur, si
paucissimæ dimensiones in æ quatione occurrunt, pro Applica
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
Euler’s results of which we have given an account, both in
the case of foundation of mechanics and in that of algebraic
analysis, depend on the effort to carry out or to extend a New-
tonian program. But in both cases, this is done by relying on
Cartesian and Leibnitian conceptions and tools. C. A. Truesdell
has summed up the situation about mechanics by saying that
Euler inaugurated the tradition of Newtonian mechanics be-
cause he “put most of mechanics in their modern form”32. Mu-
tatis mutandis, the same also holds for Euler’s theory of func-
tions. In both cases the following question naturally arises:
what does remain, then, of Newton’s conceptions in Euler’s
theories? This is too difficult a question to hope to offer a com-
plete answer in a single paper. We merely hope to have pro-
vided some elements for such an answer.
We thank Frédéric Voilley for his precious linguistic support.
Aiton, E. J. (1989). The contributions of Isaac Newton, Johann Ber-
noulli and Jakob Hermann to the inverse problem of central forces.
In H.-J. Hess (Ed.), Der ausbau des calculus durch leibniz und die
brüder Bernoulli, Studia Leibnitiana, Sonderhefte (pp. 48-58). Stutt-
Backer, R. (Ed.) (2007). Euler reconsidered. Tercentenary essays. He-
ber City: Kendrick Press.
Bartoloni-Meli, D. (1993). The emergence of reference frames and the
transformation of mechanics in the E nlighten ment. Historical Studies
in the Physical Sciences, 23, 301-335.
Blay, M. (1992). La naissance de la mécanique analytique. Paris: PUF.
Bos, H. J. M. (2001). Redefining geometrical exactness. Descartes’
transformation of the early modern concept of construction. Sources
and studies in the his tory of mathematics an d physical sciences. New
Bradley R., & Sandifer, E. (2007). Leonhard Euler. Life, work and
legacy. A mst erdam: Elsevier.
Calinger, R. (1976). Euler’s letters to a princess of German y as an
expression of his mature scientific outlook. Archive for History of
Exact Sciences, 150, 211-233.
Cassirer, E. (1907). Das erkenntnisproblem in der philosophie und
wissenschaft der neueren zeit, vol. II. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer.
Descartes, R. (1637). La géométrie. In Discours de la méthode pour
bien co nduire sa raison et ch ercher la vérité dans les s ciences. Plus la
dioptrique. Les météores & la géométrie qui sont des essais de cette
méthode (pp. 297-413). Leyde: I. Maire.
Euler, L. (1736). Mechanica, sive motus scientia analytice exposita. 2
vols. Petropoli: Ex Typographia Academiae Scientiarum. In (Eu-
ler, OO, Series II, 1-2).
Euler, L. (1743). De causa gravitatis [publ. anonymously]. Miscellanea
Berolinensia, 7, 360-370. In (Euler, OO, Series II, 31, 373-378).
Euler, L. (1744). Methodus inveniendi lineas curvas maxime minimive
proprietate gaudentes. Lausanæ et Genevæ: M. M. Bousquet et Soc.
In (Euler, OO, Series I, 24).
Euler, L. (1746). De la force de percussion et de sa véritable mesure.
Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences de Berlin, 1, 21-53. In (Eu-
ler, OO, Series II, 8, 27-53).
Euler, L. (1748). Introductio in analysin infinitorum. Lausanæ: Apud
Marcum-Michælem Bousquet & Socios. In (Euler, OO, Series I,
Euler, L. (1748). Recherches sur les p lus grands et les plu s petits qui se
trouvent dans les actions des forces. Histoire de l’Académie Royale
des Sciences et des Belles Lettres [de Berlin], 4, 149-188. In (Eu-
ler, OO, Series I, 5, 1-37).
Euler, L. (1748). Réflexions sur quelques loix générales de la n ature q ui
s’observent dans les effets des forces quelconques. Histoire de
l’Académie Royale des Scien ces et des Belles Lettres [de Berlin], 4,
183-218. In (Euler, OO, Series I, 5, 38-63).
Euler, L. (1750). Recherche sur l’origine des forces. Mémoires de
l’Académie des Sciences de Berlin, 6 , 419-447. In (Eule r, OO, Series
II, 5, 109-131).
Euler, L. (1750). Découverte d’un nouveau principe de mécanique.
Mémoires de l’Acad émie des sciences de Be rlin, 6, 18 5-217. In (Eu-
ler, OO, Series II, 5, 81-110).
Euler, L. (1751). Harmonie entre les principes generaux de repos et de
mouvement de M. de Maup ert u is . H isto ire de l’ Acad émie Royale des
Sciences et des Belles Lett res [de Be rlin], 7, 169-198. In (Euler, OO,
Series I, 5, 152-172).
Euler, L. (1751). Essay d’une démonstration métaphysique du principe
générale de l’équilibre. Histoire de l’Académie Royale des Sciences
et des Belles Lettres [de Berlin], 7, 246-25 4. In (Eu ler, OO, Se ries II,
Euler, L. (1751). Sur le principe de la moindre action. Histoire de
l’Académie Royale des Scien ces et des Belles Lettres [de Berlin], 7,
199-218. In (Euler, OO, Series I, 5, 179-193).
Euler, L. (1755). Institutiones calculi differentialis cum eius usu in
analysi finitorum ac doctrina serierum. Impensis Academia Imperi-
alis Scientiarum Petropolitanæ. Berolini: ex officina Michælis, Re-
print (1787), Ticini: typographeo P. Galeatii [ we ref er t o th is rep rint].
Also in (Euler, OO, Series I, 10).
Euler, L. (1765). Theoria motus corporum solidorum seu rigidorum [...].
Rostochii et Gryphiswaldiæ: litteris et impensis A. F. Röse. In (Eu-
ler, OO, Series II, 3).
Euler, L. (1768). Institutionum Calculi Integralis, 3 vols. Petropoli:
Impensis Academia Imperialis Scientiarum. In (Euler, OO, Series 1,
Euler, L. (1768-1772). Lettres à une princesse d’Allemagne sur divers
sujets de physique & de philosophie (3 vols.). Saint-Petersbourg:
Imprimerie de l’Académie Impériale des Sciences. In (Euler, OO,
Series III, 11-12).
Euler, L (LPAH). Letters of Euler on different subjects in natural phi-
losophy. Adressed to a German Princess (2 vols.). Translation of
(Euler, 1768-1772) by H. Hunter. 3rd Edition. Edinburgh: Printed for
W. and C. Tait [...].
Euler, L. (IAIB). Introduction to analysis of the infinite. New York,
Berlin: Springer Verlag. Englis h Tra ns lation of (Euler, 1748) by J. D.
Blanton, 2 vols.
Euler, L. (ICDB). Foundations of differential calculus. New York,
Berlin: Springer Verlag. English translation of (Euler, 1755, Vol. I)
by J. D. Blant on.
Euler, L. (OO). Leonhardi Euleri Opera Omnia (76 vols). Leipzig,
Berlin, Basel: Societas Scientiarum Naturalium Helveticæ.
Euler, L. The Euler archive. The works of Leonhard Euler online.
Ferraro, G. (2004). Differentials and differential coefficients in the eu-
lerian foundations of the calculus. Historia Mathematica, 31, 34-61.
Fraser, C. G. (1983). J. L. Lagrange’s eraly contributions to the princi-
ples and methods of mechanics. Archive for History of Exact Sci-
ences, 28, 197-241.
Fraser, C. G. (1985). D’Alembert principle: The original formulation
and application in Jean d’Alembert’s Traité de Dynamique (1743).
Centaurus, 28, 31-61 and 145-159.
Fraser, C. G. (1989 ). The calculus as algebraic analysis: So me observa-
tions on mathematical analysis in the 18th century. Archive for His-
tory of Exact Sciences, 390, 317-335.
Fraser, C. G. (1994). The origins of Euler’s variational calculus. Ar-
chive for History of Exact Sciences, 470, 103-141.
Fraser, C. G. (2003 ). The calculus of variations: A historical survey. In
H. N. Jahnke (Ed.), A history of analysis (pp. 355-384). New York:
American Mathematical Society and London Mathematical Society.
Galuzzi, M. (1990). I marginalia di Newton alla seconda edizione la-
tina della Geometria d i Descartes e i prob lemi ad ess i collegati. In G.
Belgioioso (Ed.), Descartes, Il metodo e i saggi. Atti del Convegno
32cf. (Tru esdell, 1968, p. 106). See also (Truesdel l, 1970) and (Maglo
2003, p. 139) that resumes Truesdell’s views on this matter neatly an
S. MARONNE, M. PANZA
per il 350e anniversario della pubblicazione del Discours de la Mé-
thode e degli Essais (2 vols) (pp. 387-417). Firenze: Armando Pao-
Gaukroger, S. (1982). The metaphysics of impenetrability: Euler’s con-
ception of force. The British Journal for the History of Science, 15,
Guicciardini, N. (1995). Johann Bernoulli, John Keill and the inverse
problem of central forces. Annals of Science, 52, 537-575.
Guicciardini, N. (1996). An episode in the history of dynamics: Jakob
Hermann’s proof (1716-1717) of Proposition 1, Book 1, of Newton’s
Principia. Historia Mathematica, 23, 167-181.
Guicciardini, N. (1999). Read ing the Pr incipia: Th e debate on Newton’s
mathematical methods for natural philosophy from 1687 to 1736.
Cambridge: Cam bridge University Press.
Guicciardini, N. (2004a). Dot-age: Newton’s mathematical legacy in
the eighteenth century. Early Science and Medicine, 9, 218-256.
Guicciardini, N. (2004b). Geometry and mechanics in the preface to
Newton’s Principia: A criticism of Descartes’ Géométrie. Graduate
Faculty Philosophy Journal, 25, 119-159.
Hermann, J. (1716). Phoronomia, sive de viribus et motibus corporum
solidorum et fluidorum libri duo. Amstelædami: Apud R. & G. Wet-
stenios H. FF.
Lagrange, J. L. (1761). Applications de la méthode exposée dans le
mémoire précédent à la solution de différents p roblèmes de dynami -
que. Mélanges de Philosophie et de Mathématiques de la Société
Royale de Turin, 2, 196-298.
Maclaurin, C. (1742). A treatise of fluxions: In two books. Edinburgh:
T.W. and T. Ruddi mans.
Maglo, K. (2003). The reception of Newton’s Gravitational Theory by
Huygens, Varignon, and Maupertuis: How normal science may be
revolutionary. Perspectives on Science, 11, 135-169.
Maltese, G. (2000). On the relativity of motion in Leonhard Euler’s
science. Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 54, 319-348.
Maupertuis, P. L. M. (1740). Loi du repos des corps. Histoire de l'Aca-
démie Royale des Sciences [de Paris], Mémoires de Mathématiques
et Physique, 170-176. In (Euler, OO, Ser. II, 5, 268-273).
Maupertuis, P. L. M. (1 744 ). Accord de dif férentes lo ix de la nature qui
avoient jusqu’ici paru inco mpatibles. Histoire de l’Acad émie Royale
des Sciences de Paris, 417-426. In (Euler, OO, Ser. II, 5, 274-281).
Maupertuis, P. L. M. (1746). Les Loix du mouvement et du repos dé-
duites d’un principe métaphysique. Histoire de l’Académie Royale
des Sciences et des Belles Lettres de Berlin, 267-294. In (Euler, OO,
Ser. II, 5, 282-302).
Maupertuis, P. L. M. (175 0 ). Essay de Cosmologie. s. n., s. l.
Maupert ui s , P. L. M. (1756). Examen philosophique de la preuve de
l’existence de dieu employée dans l'essai de cosmologie. Histoire de
l’Académie Royale des Sciences et des Belles Lettres [ de Berlin], 12 ,
Mazzone, S., & Roero, C. S. (1997). Jacob Hermann and the dif fusion
of the Leibnizian Calculus in Italy. Biblioteca di “Nuncius”: Studi e
testi, 26. Firenze: Olchski.
Newton, I. (1670-1671). De methodis serierum et fluxionum. In (New-
ton, MWP, vol. 3, chapter 1, pp. 32-254).
Newton, I. (1687). Philosophiæ naturalis Principia Mathematica. Lon-
dini: Iussu Societatis regiae ac Typis Josephi Streater. [2nd ed.
(1713), Cantabrigiæ; 3rd ed. (1726), Londinis: apud G. & J. Innys ].
Newton, I. (1704a). Opticks or a treatise of the reflexions, refractions,
inflexions and colours of light. Also two treatises of the species and
magnitude of curvilinear figures. London: Printed for S. Smith and B.
Newton, I. (1704b). Enumeratio linearum tertii ordinis. In (New-
ton, 1704a, 138-162 of the s econd numbering).
Newton, I. (1704c). Tractatus de quadratura curvarum. In (New-
ton, 1704a, 163-211 of the s econd numbering).
Newton, I. (175 6). Four lette rs f ro m Sir Isaac Newton t o d octo r Ben tley
containing some arguments in proof of a deity. London: Printed for R.
and J. Dodsley.
Newton, I. ( MWP). The mathe matical papers of Isaac Newton (8 vol.).
Edited by D.T. Whiteside. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Newton, I. (PMCW). The Principia. Mathe matical Principles of Natural
Philosophy. A New Translation by I. Bernard Cohen and Anne
Whitman, assisted by Julia Budenz, preceded by a Guide to New-
ton’s Principia by I. Bernard Cohen. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London:
University of California Press.
Panza, M. (1992). La forma della quantità. Analisi algebrica e analisi
superiore: Il problema dell'unità della matematica nel secondo dell’il-
luminismo (2 vols.). Number 38-39 in Cahiers d’histoire et de philosophie
des sciences. Nouvelle série. Paris: S ociété française d’histoire des sciences.
Panza, M. (1995). De la nature épargnante aux forces généreuses. Le
principe de moindre action entre mathématique et métaphysique:
Maupertuis et Euler (1740-1751). Revue d’Histoire des Sciences, 48,
Panza, M. (2002). Mathematisation of the science of motion and the
birth of analytical mechanics: A historiographical note. In P. Cerrai,
P. Freguglia, & C. Pellegrini (Eds.), The Application of Mathematics to
the Sciences of Nature. Critical moments and Aspects (pp. 253-271).
New York: Kluwer/Plenum publishers.
Panza, M. (2003). The origins of analytic mechanics in the 18th century.
In H. N. Jahnke (Ed.), A History of Analysis (pp. 137-153). New York:
American Mathematical Society and London Mathematical Society.
Panza, M. (2005). Newton et l es orig ines de l’anal yse: 1664 -1666. Paris:
Librairie Albert Blanchard.
Panza, M. (2007a). What is new and what is old in Viète’s analysis
restituita and algebra nova, and where do they come from? Some re-
flections on the relations between algebra and analysis before Viète.
Revue d’Histoire des mathématiques, 13, 85-153.
Panza, M. (2007b). Euler’s Introductio in analysin infinitorum and the
program of algebraic analysis: quantities, functions and numerical
partitions. In R. Backer (Ed.), Euler reconsidered. Tercentenary es-
says (pp. 119-166). Heber City: Kendrick Press.
Panza, M. (2012). From velocities to fluxions. In A. Jan iak, & E. Schli-
esser (Eds.), Interpreting Newton: Critical essays (pp. 219-254). Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pappus (CMH). Pappi Alexandrini Collectionis [...]. Edited with Latin
translation and commentary by F. Hultsch. 3 vols. Berolini: Weid-
man n .
Pulte, H. (1989). Das prinzip der kleinsten wirkung und die kraftkon-
zeptionen der rationalen mechanik. Volume 19 of Studia Leibnitiana.
Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag.
Rashed, R. (2005). Les premières classifications des courbes. Physis,
Rome ro, A. (2007). La Mécanique d’Euler: Prolégomènes à la pensée
physique des milieux continus [...]. Ph.D. Thesis, Paris: Université
Paris Diderot—Paris 7.
Schroeder, P. (2007). La loi de la gravitation universelle. Newton, Euler
et Laplace. Paris: Springer.
Szabó, I. (1987). Geschichte der mechanischen prinzipien. Basel, Bos-
ton, Stutgart: Birkhäuser.
Truesdell, C. A. (1960). The rational mechanics of flexible or elastic
bodies, 1638-1788. Bâle: Birkhäuser . In (Euler, OO, Ser. II, 11, 2).
Truesdell, C. A. (1968). Essays in the history of mechanics. Berlin:
Truesdell, C. A. (1970). Reactions of late baroque mechanics to suc-
cess, conjecture, error, and failure in Newton’s Principia. In Robert
Palter, (Ed.), The annus mirabilis of sir Isaac Newton 16 6 6-1966 (pp.
192-232). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Varignon, P. (1725). Nou velle mécanique ou statique. 2 vols. Paris: C.
Viète, F. (1591). In artem analiticem isagoge. Turonis: J. Mettayer.
Wilson, C. (1992). Euler on action at a distance and fundamental equa-
tions in continuum mechanics. In P. M. Harman, & A. E. Shapiro,
(Eds.), The investigation of diffi cult things (pp. 399-420). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.