"The Uses of Analogy: James Clerk Maxwell’s “On Faraday’s Lines of Force’ and Early Victorian Analogical Argument", department colloquium, May 11, 2012, 12 noon

Kevin Lambert, CSUF Liberal Studies

James Clerk Maxwell’s first paper on electromagnetism is famous for its use of analogy as a means of giving Michael Faraday’s lines of force mathematical form.  But early Victorian analogical arguments were also used to order the natural and the social world by maintaining a coherent collective experience across cultural oppositions such as the ideal and material, the sacred and profane, theory and fact.   I will argue that Maxwell understood his theoretical work as both a technical practice and as a contribution to an ongoing Victorian conversation about the mid-nineteenth century moral order.  Looking at Maxwell’s “On Faraday’s Lines of Force’ in that way provides historical perspective on the development of a new cognitive tool: a way of thinking on paper analogous to thinking with objects in the laboratory.