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A plan which he made o f his native town won for him admission to the college o f military engineering at Mezieres, where, on his own initiative, he substituted geometrical methods for the tedious arithmetical processes which were being employed in constructing the plans o f fortifications; and he was thus led, about 1770, to the underlying principles o f his descriptive geometry. Monge rose to be a Professor at Mezieres, and later went to Paris. He took a prominent part in the Revolution, being appointed to superintend the manufacture o f cannon, though during the Reign o f T error he was denounced, and fled abroad.

The book is a landmark in the development o f mechanics, embodying as it does a principle as simple and as fundamental for the motion of bodies as is the principle o f virtual velocities for their equilibrium. The derivation o f D ’Alembert’s Principle may be traced back to the problem of the compound pendulum. Obviously such a pendulum is merely a lever in motion, as was pointed out by the Bernoullis; and the forces acting upon each o f its particles may be classified into external or impressedforces, and internal reactions between the particles.

T h e relation between potential and kinetic energies, and the equivalence o f the forces o f nature, were ideas still outside Leibniz’ ken, although he shared the opinion o f many o f his contemporaries that heat consists in a motion o f the ultimate particles o f matter. He even gives a suggestive picture o f the transition from molar to molecular motion when he likens the process to that o f changing a gold coin for small change. The seventeenth-century doctrine o f the conservation o f force had, o f course, been vaguely anticipated by Epicurus and his followers in ancient times, and Voltaire maintained that Descartes had only revived an old chimera.

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A History of Science, Technology, and Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century by A Wolf


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