Preparing the Battlefield

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:
Preparing the Battlefield

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In 1727, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle celebrated his appointment at forty years of age as the first-ever perpetual secretary of the Royal Academy of Sciences. During his first three decades as academy secretary, Fontenelle had defined himself and his new office by working vigorously to defend an image of honnête public science that came to define official French science as a whole. This chapter looks at the priority dispute that pitted defenders of Isaac Newton's independently invented calculus against Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's claim to have been the first to invent this new mathematics. The new critical climate, the new discourses of Newtonianism, the new eighteenth-century mediascape, and the new battlefield focused on Newton—made possible Voltaire's innovations in 1734. This chapter also focuses on Father Louis Bertrand Castel and critical mathematical discourse in France before concluding by discussing the correspondence between Leibniz and Samuel Clarke.

Keywords: science; France; Isaac Newton; mathematics; calculus; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz; Samuel Clarke; Louis Bertrand Castel; Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle; Newtonianism

Chapter.  29010 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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