Chapter

Introduction: Provincializing Newton, or Building in the Ruins of a Grand Narrative of Modernity<sup>1</sup>

in The Newton Wars and the Beginning of the French Enlightenment

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9780226749457
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226749471 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226749471.003.0001
Introduction: Provincializing Newton, or Building in the Ruins of a Grand Narrative of Modernity1

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In 1687, the year Isaac Newton's Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica appeared, few Frenchmen even knew who the author was and even fewer actually read the book. Yet a century later he and his work were held by large numbers of them to be the very personification of modernity. This book explores the linkage between Newton and the Enlightenment in France during the eighteenth century. It deconstructs the philosophe-authored story that posits Newtonian science as the natural springboard for Enlightenment. It also problematizes the philosophe claim that Voltaire's 1734 Lettres philosophiques constituted the sui generis origination of the Newtonian Enlightenment in France. The book looks at the famous priority dispute that pitted defenders of Newton's independently invented calculus against Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's claim to have been the first to invent this new mathematics. It then examines the parallel uses of Newtonianism by Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis and Voltaire between 1732 and 1734. Finally, it discusses the Newton wars that Voltaire and Maupertuis helped to trigger after 1734 in terms of the French Enlightenment that followed from them.

Keywords: Isaac Newton; Enlightenment; eighteenth century; France; Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica; Newtonianism; Voltaire; Lettres philosophiques; calculus; Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis

Chapter.  13209 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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