Maupertuis et ses critiques : textes et controverses

Abstract : Whereas historians have sometimes acknowledged the momentous contribution the Enlightenment provided to the cultural and scientific development of the modern world, more often they have criticized its speculative shallowness, and its overconfidence in the results of the scientific inquiry. The figure of Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759), holding a central place in our study, suffered the same fate as many other Enlightenment thinkers: mentioned in some historical narratives as a leading scientist and experimenter, most notably for the decisive contribution he gave to the circulation of Newtonian theories in France, he is relegated to the background in histories of modern philosophy and epistemology. One of the main objectives of the present research is to advance an interpretation of Maupertuis’ works which insists on the speculative depth of his doctrines, in order to display the preeminent place epistemological and metaphysical stakes occupy therein. The critical analysis of Maupertuis’ texts, however, is not the only important aspect of our study: we aim indeed at creating a wider narrative, which might contribute to clarify Maupertuis’ place within the intellectual network of the early 18th-century Republic of Letters. In this sense, we attribute a special importance to the study of Maupertuis’ controversies with other scientists and philosophers. The two controversies on which we concentrate are the controversy over the shape of the Earth, which took place at the Paris Academy of Sciences between 1733 and 1740, and the controversy over monads and Christian Wolff’s philosophy, taking place at the Berlin Academy of Sciences between 1746 and 1750. The interest of studying Maupertuis’ controversies is twofold. Firstly, it is an aspect of Maupertuis’ life and work commentators have overlooked: although there are a few essays dealing with Maupertuis’ controversies, which are for the most part focused on the question of shape of the Earth, monographs hitherto published do not discuss this aspect in detail. Secondly, Maupertuis’ controversies are an interesting case study to understand how scientific and philosophical controversies concretely work. We do not intend to claim that our study of Maupertuis’ controversies might function as a universally valid model for the study of each and every controversy in the history of science and philosophy. However, since historians studying controversies privilege case studies drawn from the 17th century, it seems useful to discuss an episode from another century, which belongs therefore to a different intellectual and social context. In this way, we will provide new elements of reflection on the nature of philosophical and scientific disagreement, which might integrate the existing literature on the subject. Ultimately, our study is not only a work on Maupertuis’ thought, but a survey that, through the analysis of Maupertuis’ texts and controversies, reconstructs the network of relations and exchanges which constitute the early 18th-century Republic of Letters. The work of Maupertuis functions therefore as a prism through which we observe the main lines of development of science and philosophy of his time.
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Marco Storni. Maupertuis et ses critiques : textes et controverses. Histoire, Philosophie et Sociologie des sciences. PSL Research University; Università degli studi (Bologne, Italie), 2018. Français. ⟨NNT : 2018PSLEE045⟩. ⟨tel-02310618⟩

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