an intellectual biography

Author: David Beeson

Volume: 299

Series: SVEC

Publication Date: 1992

Pages: 312

ISBN: 978-0-7294-0438-9

Price: £65


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).

Voltaire Foundation

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