Carrière et vie professionnelle

Dissertation Abstract

This dissertation examines the relationships between savants, artisans and machines in seventeenth-century France (1630-1690). I argue that French natural philosophy was not exclusively a matter of reason and rational thinking (Cartesianism), commonly distinguished from the experimentally-inclined England of Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle or the Italy of Galileo Galilei. Generating scientific knowledge in early modern France involved rather a combination of intellectual and hands-on practical skills, usually aimed at the production of instruments and complex machines. I suggest throughout the dissertation that artisans and savants intersected in technological spaces, where they formulated epistemic dialogues anchored in the tools and machines created within those spaces. Looking in turn at Marin Mersenne, René Descartes, and Blaise Pascal, I show how their respective description and interpretation of the pneumatic organ, lens-grinding machine, and arithmetical machine depended not only upon their knowledge of music, optics and mathematics but most importantly upon their familiarity with the work of organ makers, opticians and clockmakers–with whom they were in regular contact. Within these machines was embedded a plurality of practices (theoretical, experimental and artisanal) that Mersenne, Descartes, and Pascal themselves understood and expounded in their writing. Such habits of knowledge, as I call them, though distinctive were not as unconnected and compartmentalized as they are usually represented in the literature. The association of theory and practice, in relation to the material culture of science, became a common trope in the seventeenth century, including in France. The chapter on Christiaan Huygens and the Académie des sciences shows best how academicians, savants, honnêtes hommes and artisans formed in the latter seventeenth century an extended network inside and outside the royal institution, where intellectual ideas, practical knowledge, and instrumental inventions were shared and fought over by everyone for privilege and authority. Lastly, by fully integrating instruments and machines into the intellectual and hands-on practices of knowledge-production in early modern France, I describe how the concepts of habitus (of the mind and the body) and organum (instrument) were understood and how historically fitting they are in order to understand the coordination and tuning of the mind and the body for the production of science ( scientia ).  [pdf version]


January 30, 2009 - Posted by | Epistemology, Instrument | , , , , ,

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