Pre-Newtonian ConceptsSee also: Aristotelian physics and Theory of impetus
Since antiquity the concept of force has been recognized as integral to the functioning of each of the simple machines. The mechanical advantage given by a simple machine allowed for less force to be used in exchange for that force acting over a greater distance for the same amount of work. Analysis of the characteristics of forces ultimately culminated in the work of Archimedes who was especially famous for formulating a treatment of buoyant forces inherent in fluids.
Aristotle provided a philosophical discussion of the concept of a force as an integral part of Aristotelian cosmology. In Aristotle's view, the natural world held four elements that existed in "natural states". Aristotle believed that it was the natural state of objects with mass on Earth, such as the elements water and earth, to be motionless on the ground and that they tended towards that state if left alone. He distinguished between the innate tendency of objects to find their "natural place" (e.g., for heavy bodies to fall), which led to "natural motion", and unnatural or forced motion, which required continued application of a force. This theory, based on the everyday experience of how objects move, such as the constant application of a force needed to keep a cart moving, had conceptual trouble accounting for the behavior of projectiles, such as the flight of arrows. The place where forces were applied to projectiles was only at the start of the flight, and while the projectile sailed through the air, no discernible force acts on it. Aristotle was aware of this problem and proposed that the air displaced through the projectile's path provided the needed force to continue the projectile moving. This explanation demands that air is needed for projectiles and that, for example, in a vacuum, no projectile would move after the initial push. Additional problems with the explanation include the fact that air resists the motion of the projectiles.
Aristotelian physics began facing criticism in Medieval science, first by John Philoponus in the 6th century.
The shortcomings of Aristotelian physics would not be fully corrected until the 17th century work of Galileo Galilei, who was influenced by the late Medieval idea that objects in forced motion carried an innate force of impetus. Galileo constructed an experiment in which stones and cannonballs were both rolled down an incline to disprove the Aristotelian theory of motion early in the 17th century. He showed that the bodies were accelerated by gravity to an extent which was independent of their mass and argued that objects retain their velocity unless acted on by a force, for example friction.
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