The Invention of French Newtonianism

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:
The Invention of French Newtonianism

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Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis announced his Newtonianism from the highest levels of the French scientific establishment. Voltaire, by contrast, proclaimed his from within the public space of the Republic of Letters. However, since establishment French science was linked inextricably to the wider public culture of the Republic of Letters, and since the Paris Academy, Maupertuis' prime arena of activity, was especially attached to these wider communities, Maupertuis' proclamations were public addresses as well. The academician in fact came to his Newtonianism through a negotiation between his public and academic identities, and his self-fashioning as the first French Newtonian resulted from an interplay between them. Although never a royal academician of science, Voltaire fashioned himself through a similar negotiation. Public academic science as it had evolved in France since 1699 fostered the authority of the wider public as a legitimating audience for official knowledge. Voltaire laid claim to this authority and used it to position himself as an authoritative public spokesperson for science, one outside of the Royal Academy, and one who challenged the official savants of this body.

Keywords: Voltaire; science; France; Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis; Newtonianism; Royal Academy of Sciences

Chapter.  22581 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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