Maxwell’s Methodological Odyssey in Electromagnetism

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Hon, Giora; Goldstein, Bernard R.
conference paper description
In addition to his scientific achievements, James Clerk Maxwell was an innovator in methodologies in physics. In fact, in his hands methodology and theory mutually inform one another, an aspect of his work that has not been properly appreciated. We examine closely from a methodological perspective Maxwell’s contributions to electromagnetism and uncover a trajectory of great interest, which we call Maxwell’s methodological odyssey. There are four principal stations along the fifteen-year trajectory of Maxwell’s published writings devoted to electromagnetism. These contributions form a sequence of different methodologies which culminated in 1873 in his Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Tracing the path leading to his magnum opus yields novel insights into the various methodologies which Maxwell applied in the course of constructing his epoch-making electrodynamic theory. Indeed, we claim that the framework of the theory is just as important as the empirical facts in this physical domain. Thus, we are persuaded that Maxwell's formulation and application of novel scientific methodologies is no less a feat than proposing a fundamental theory.