an intellectual biography

David Beeson

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ISBN: 9780729404389

Publication: January 1, 1992

Series: Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment 299

In the USA? Buy the Hardback US edition
This intellectual biography stands as the definitive account of Maupertuis’s career. His much-publicised quarrel with Voltaire – which ultimately destroyed him – has cast a long shadow over his reputation. Maupertuis’s true contribution to eighteenth-century scientific debate re-emerges clearly in this important reassessment.


Introduction: Why Maupertuis? 

Chronology of Maupertuis’ life 

1. The scientific background 
The triumph and decline of Cartesianism 
Natural history and the attack on dualism 
Developments in physics: point-mass mechanics 
Theories of gravitation 
Natural history: ovism and spermatism – ontological and teleological reasoning 
Ontology and teleology in physics: the case of optics 
Empiricism and rationalism: the shape of the Earth 

2. The years of apprenticeship: 1698-1732 
Saint-Malo and Paris 
Vis viva: the debate reopens 
Basle and Paris 
Hesitations over Leibnizianism 
Montpellier: an interlude for natural history 
On the shapes of celestial bodies 
De figuris 
Genesis of the Figures des astres 

3. The shape of the Earth: 1732-1740 
France’s first Newtonian 
Reactions to the Figures des astres 
The shape of the Earth: the debate reopens 
Factions in the Academy: the generation gap 
Counter-attack: the search for a decisive test 
After Lapland 
A new offensive: Examen désintéressé 
Twisting the knife 
Elémens de géographie 
Lettre d’un horloger anglois 

4. From Paris to Berlin: 1740-1745 
Prussia and the Berlin Academy of Sciences 
Maupertuis and Frederick 
Maupertuis in Paris 
Launching the Berlin Academy 
Closing a chapter 
Speculative philosophy 
Thoughts on science: address to the Académie française 
Towards least-action principle: work on statics 
From statics to optics 
Natural history 
A thinker in transition 

5. The years of triumph: 1746-1751 
Berlin before the Koenig affair 
La Mettrie: moral philosophy 
La Mettrie: natural history 
Leonhard Euler 
The peaks of achievement 

6. Decline and death: 1751-1759 
Maupertuis and Koenig 
Revisions to existing texts 
Replies to critics 
New work 
Maupertuis’s last journey 

Conclusion: an attempt at an assessment 

Appendix: Maupertuis’ mathematical analysis of point-mass collisions 



'An extremely welcome study which attempts, not a rehabilitation, but an objective analysis of Maupertuis’s work and its importance in the science of his time.'
- Ann Thomson, French Studies 48 (1994)


Format: Hardback

Size: 239 × 163 mm

312 Pages

Copyright: © 1992

ISBN: 9780729404389

Publication: January 1, 1992

Series: Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment 299

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