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The Uses of Analogies in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Science


The object of this paper is to look at the extent and nature of the uses of analogy during the first century following the so-called scientific revolution. Using the research tool provided by JSTOR we systematically analyze the uses of “analog” and its cognates (analogies, analogous, etc.) in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London for the period 1665–1780. In addition to giving the possibility of evaluating quantitatively the proportion of papers explicitly using analogies, this approach makes it possible to go beyond the maybe idiosyncratic cases of Descartes, Kepler, Galileo, and other much studied giants of the so-called Scientific Revolution. As a result a classification of types of uses is proposed. Relations between types of analogies and research fields are also established. In this paper we are less interested in discussing the “real nature” or “essence” or even the cognitive limitations of analogical thinking than in describing its various uses and different meanings as they changed over the course of a century.