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I shall return to other problems that Hertz addressed explicitly, for example: Is it appropriate to appeal to non-observable quantities, in particular to atoms and molecules and their attractive and repulsive forces, or should one attempt to give a phenomenological and macroscopic description of the world. Mach opted for the latter, many working physicists in particular Boltzmann advocated the former. Connected to this problem was the status of the energy principle: Some like Thomson and Tait, and in a purer form Ostwald (Ostwald 1888, p.

Maupertuis (and others) argued that the principle of least action held true because God (or nature) did not do anything unnecessary. Integral principles such as the principle of least action lend themselves particularly well to such theological arguments because they also implicitly suggest ﬁnal causes. They determine the motion that a system must follow in order to get from an initial conﬁguration to a ﬁnal conﬁguration, and thus implies the idea that the system wants to reach this ﬁnal conﬁguration or that God has planned it.

This, for example, is the case with the mechanism that Maxwell produced to illustrate induction of currents (Fig. 2). Boltzmann later incorporated so many such gear wheel models into his textbook on Maxwell’s theory that a reader ﬂipping through it might think he has picked up a textbook for machine engineers. It is obvious that these mechanical models were not meant as attempts to explain what really goes on in the electromagnetic ﬁeld. They served a variety of other purposes: a means to understanding (see Thomson’s quote above), an illustration, a didactical device, a help to further conjecturing, and most fundamentally a proof that the physical property in question can be incorporated into mechanics.