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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 7, Issue 1, Spring 2018

The Mathematization of Natural Philosophy between Practical Knowledge and Disciplinary Blending

Ovidiu Babeș
Pages 123-150

Descartes and Roberval
The Composite Pendulum and its Center of Agitation

This paper deals with Descartes’s and Roberval’s attempts to devise and describe the center of agitation of a composite pendulum. This episode has received some attention in the recent literature. It is usually depicted as the first step in the development of a general procedure for establishing the center of oscillation of a pendulum. My aim is to explore the different physical concepts and assumptions which informed the two mathematical accounts of the composite pendulum. I will argue that force, agitation, heaviness, or resis­tance of air essentially meant different things for Descartes and Roberval. As a result, the physical phenomena covered by the two geometrical procedures were quite distinct, and both mathematicians envisaged different roles of these phenomena within their agenda of studying nature.