Jean-Jacques Dortour de Mairan and the Geneva Connection

BookJean-Jacques Dortour de Mairan and the Geneva Connection

Jean-Jacques Dortour de Mairan and the Geneva Connection

Scientific Networking in the Eighteenth Century

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 340


January 1st, 1996

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This study illustrates the significance of Jean-Jacques Dortous de Mairan’s networking in the spread of Enlightenment thought. It focuses primarily on the unpublished correspondence between Mairan and the Geneva scientists, Firmin Abauzit, Gabriel Cramer, Jean Jallabert and Charles Bonnet.
Mairan was an assiduous correspondent whose letters reveal the progress of scientific thought in the first three quarters of the eighteenth century. Despite the high regard in which of his contemporaries, he has been, until recently, relatively neglected by Enlightenment scholars. This is the first full-length study devoted to Mairan’s relations with scientists in other countries, to the process of cross-fertilisation in the production of scientific knowledge, and to his considerable influence on the development of scientific thought on key issues. The topics covered in the letters range from the Shape of the Earth and vis vivacontroversies and the medical powers of electricity, to the nature of the Seichesin the Lac du Léman and the origin of monsters. 
One of the major interests of the correspondence is Mairan’s obvious fascination with Newton. Neglect of his contribution to the history of ideas can be partly explained by the fact that he was unfairly considered a ‘last-ditch’ Cartesian in a triumphantly Newtonian world. The detailed analysis of the letters in this study amply shows a constant preoccupation with both the Opticks and the Principiaand a fairly sophisticated understanding of scientific method. 
The letters abound in references to other scientists, such as the Bernoullis, Nollet, Dufay and Maupertuis. They provide an exciting, unguarded and ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of scientific developments before they were finalised and appeared in published works. It is particularly revealing, therefore, to compare the letters to Mairan’s contributions to the Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences, his early dissertations, and his mature works. 
Mairan’s unpublished correspondence with Geneva scientists is a treasure-house of information on personalities, ideas and controversies of crucial importance to the international scientific community from 1717 to 1769.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
1. Introduction12
i. Scientific Networks12
ii. Mairan's Reputation14
2. Background to the major topics Discussed21
i. Shape of the Earth21
ii. Aurora Borealis26
iii. Light and sound27
iv. Heat and cold29
v. Vis viva30
vi. Electricity31
vii. Animal machines32
viii. Monsters33
ix. Chemical Affinities34
x. Mathematics34
xi. Newtonian natural Philosophy36
xii. Conclusion37
3. The Mairan-Abauzit Correspondence38
i. The Béziers letters39
ii. The Paris letters51
iii. Conclusion72
4. The Mairan-Cramer Correspondence76
5. The Mairan-Jallabert Correspondence133
6. The Mairan-Bonnet Correspondence154
7. Conclusion174
Appendix A180
Appendix B183