Prof. Dr. Michael Esfeld
Michael Esfeld is professor for philosophy of science at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) since 2002. PhD Westfälische-Wilhelms-Universität Münster 1994, thesis about "Mechanism and subjectivity in the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes", Habilitation University of Konstanz 2000 on "Holism in philosophy of mind and philosophy of physics", 2000 Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire (UK), 2001 associate professor of philosophy at Albertus-Magnus-University Cologne, since 2010 fellow of Leopoldina – National Academy of Germany, 2013 research award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Main areas of research are the philosophy of science, in particular the metaphysics of science, as well as the philosophy of mind and language. (Homepage: www.michaelesfeld.com)
- Science and human freedom, London: Palgrave-Macmillan 2020. (German: Wissenschaft und Freiheit. Das naturwissenschaftliche Weltbild und der Status von Personen, Berlin: Suhrkamp 2019.)
- with Dirk-André Deckert: A minimalist ontology of the natural world, New York: Routledge 2017.
- Physique et métaphysique: une introduction à la philosophie de la nature, Lausanne: Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes 2012. (Italian: Filosofia della natura. Fisica e ontologia, Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier 2018.)
- with Christian Sachse: Kausale Strukturen. Einheit und Vielfalt in der Natur und den Naturwissenschaften, Berlin: Suhrkamp 2010. (Englisch: with Christian Sachse: Englisch Conservative reductionism, New York: Routledge 2011.)
- Naturphilosophie als Metaphysik der Natur, Frankfurt (Main): Suhrkamp 2008.
- Philosophie des sciences. Une introduction, Lausanne: Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes 2006.
- La philosophie de l’esprit. De la relation entre l’esprit et la nature, Paris: Armand Colin 2005.
- Einführung in die Naturphilosophie, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 2002.
- Holism in philosophy of mind and philosophy of physics, Dordrecht: Kluwer 2001 (German: Holismus in der Philosophie des Geistes und in der Philosophie der Physik, Frankfurt (Main): Suhrkamp 2002.)
- Mechanismus und Subjektivität in der Philosophie von Thomas Hobbes, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog 1995.
Research project: Physics and metaphysics of force: the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical notion of force in Aristotle and Newton
The concept of force is central to Newton's physics: according to the three laws of motion, every change of motion of a body is attributed to the action of a force. In each concrete law of motion, however, the force term then disappears in the calculation of the acceleration of a body in favour of a dynamical parameter that is attributed to each body, such as the parameter of mass in the law of gravity. Furthermore, Newton's laws leave no room for forces that act by propagating in space.
Against this background, the research project investigates the significance of the concept of force in classical physics (and beyond to quantum physics). The second part of the project then consists in relating the physical concept of force to the metaphysical concept of power, which can be traced back to Aristotle (dynamis). Again, the question is what significance this metaphysical concept of force has for natural philosophy, especially in relation to the contemporary research about dispositions, powers and dynamical structures.
Research results: Physics and metaphysics of force: the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical notion of force in Aristotle and Newton
The notion of force in Newtonian physics is such that forces reduce to those physical magntitudes that fix the change in the motion of bodies through the role that they exert in the laws of physics, such as mass and charge. Hence, there are no forces as such, but only forceful magnitudes so to speak. These magnitudes express a dynamical relationship between bodies through their position in the laws. Force and the parameters to which they reduce are thereby located in the motion of the bodies. They designate patterns of motion that the laws reveal.
By contrast, the metaphysical notion of force aims at a deeper explanation of these patterns of motion. This can be illustrated in terms of the way in which Leibniz employs the notion of force, taking up Aristotle and his notion of dynamis, which can indeed be seen as the source of the metaphysical notion of force. Aristotle and Leibniz constitute the basic reference for the theory of properties as forces in the sense of powers in contemporary metaphysics: bodies have natural, intrinsic properties. These are powers. The changes that happen in nature are the manifestations of these powers. The problem, however, is that the explanations that are formulated according to this scheme are circular.
In the last resort, the notion of force turns out to be metaphorical: in the realm of natural science (physics, biology, etc.) it stands for salient patterns in the behaviour of the systems in question. In the realm of human actions ("power of will"), it stands for our freedom to set up rules for thoughts and actions ourselves.