By Philipp Frank
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Additional resources for Between physics and philosophy.
For example, I can introduce only the motion of masses; but then, in order to obtain the necessary diversity, I must take refuge in unconformable hidden motions. This leads to the purely mechanical picture of the world, which Democritus dimly conceived as an ideal, and which occurs mostly in the form of atomism. This purely quantitative picture of the universe, striving to manage with a minimum number of qualities, found its most logical development in the book "Philosophy of Inanimate Matter" by Adolf Stöhr,2 where even the qualitative specificities still adhering to mechanical atomism were suppressed in favor of purely geometrical-quantitative schemes.
I will not deny that Mach allowed himself to be misled by this argument into attacking the use of atomistics in physics more sharply than can be justified. After all, the usefulness of the atomic theories in this limited realm is certainly indisputable. His followers, as is generally the case, often saw in this weakness of the master his greatest strength, and wished to banish the atom entirely from physics. I believe that one can completely free the nucleus of Mach's teachings from this historically and individually conditioned aversion to atomistics.
Thus Maxwell, who doubtless thought positivistically, wrote the work that laid the foundation for the molecular theory of gases. The phenomenalistic conception becomes a danger only in those cases where the requirement of economy is not realized with equal intensity. The most noteworthy historical example is perhaps Goethe's doctrine of colors. However, if one wishes to pass judgment on a person of such strong individuality one must not forget, as A. 18 For one it signifies a minimum of hypotheses, for another, say, a minimum of different kinds of energy.