Skip to main content

Helmholtz's early empiricism and the Erhaltung der Kraft

Buy Article:

$60.90 plus tax (Refund Policy)


Hermann Helmholtz has often been understood to have started research under the influence of Kant, and then to have made a transition to a later mature empiricist phase. Without claiming that in 1847 Helmholtz held the same positions that he later espoused, I suggest that already in his 1847 'Uber die Erhaltung der Kraft' one may find important aspects of his later empiricism. I highlight the ways in which, from early on, Helmholtz turned Kant to use in developing an empirical program of inquiry into possible basic natural causes. To that end, I indicate how, throughout his arguments, Helmholtz employed, sometimes explicitly, but often tacitly, an empiricist logic, one that ran contrary to any form of transcendental deduction, and even to all a priori knowledge. Instead of deriving aspects about the ultimate constituents of nature, Helmholtz aimed to define the proper project for physical natural science. The first part of the paper describes the context of discussion in which Helmholtz entered. The bulk of the paper then analyzes Helmholtz's arguments in order to make space between (1) Kantian, and other, deductions of characteristics that must be true of nature and (2) Helmholtz's delineation of empirically determinable characteristics of presumed ultimate elements of nature, ones that he meant to be specified and delimited through future experimental research. The paper highlights that throughout his discussion Helmholtz meant to define the proper project for physical natural science, a project rife with empiricist aspects.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin, Germany,Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Berlin, Germany

Publication date: January 1, 2010

More about this publication?

Access Key

Free Content
Free content
New Content
New content
Open Access Content
Open access content
Partial Open Access Content
Partial Open access content
Subscribed Content
Subscribed content
Free Trial Content
Free trial content
Cookie Policy
Cookie Policy
Ingenta Connect website makes use of cookies so as to keep track of data that you have filled in. I am Happy with this Find out more