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Science and the Human Comedy

Science and the Human Comedy: Natural Plhilosophy in French Literature from Rabelais to Maupertuis

Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 224
  • Book Info
    Science and the Human Comedy
    Book Description:

    The developments of the attitudes and aspirations of French scientists between the Renaissance and the Revolution and the impact of these new outlooks on French literature form the theme of this book by an authority in the interdisciplinary treatment of science and literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-3260-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    THIS BOOK is about people, about men who differed in temperament, in style and outlook, and in the manner in which they expressed ideas. They shared a curiosity about the natural world, a concern for new patterns of thought, new methods of exploring the roots of action and change in organisms and matter, and they sought new explanations that might bring order into rapidly accumulating random facts. Linked by the part they played in the effort to understand the natural world, to put constructive ideas into circulation among contemporaries, their work took form in books, expository and theoretic as well...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Science and artifact
    (pp. 3-18)

    IN THE LAST few years of his life, Blaise Pascal turned from experimental physics and mathematics to active support of the Jansenist teachings accepted by his family and friends, many of whom were associated with the Bernardine convent of Port-Royal. The shift from objective exposition of fact and theory to persuasive eloquence in the discussion of moral issues and the interpretation of Christian doctrine necessitated a change in style and manner quite as much as in content, and the transformation of many of the qualities of his scientific writing. Impersonality and economy of statement had to be sacrificed if assent...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Pantagruel and health
    (pp. 19-44)

    RABELAIS has always interested doctors; many have written about him, and professional sympathy and clinical insight have contributed much to the interpretation of his books. Innumerable articles and monographs discuss his knowledge of anatomy, his comments on pregnancy and childbirth, the wounds inflicted in the encounters vividly described in the first two novels of his cycle, and the treatments by which his personages achieve their cures, some of them too marvelous for belief. Occasionally claims are made for him as a surgeon and practitioner which sober reading of the documents will not support — assertions which irritate rather than enlighten, creating...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Science and the Pensées of Pascal
    (pp. 45-74)

    SINCE THE seventeenth century it has occasionally been said that the French contribution to the advancement of science was systematic, discursive, argumentative, and rationalist, while that of the British was Baconian and empirical, seeking experimental evidence and rejecting verbal authority and deductive proofs; that, in short, the scientific revolution was in many ways an English phenomenon, the influence of which formed a basis for the radical thinking of Voltaire and others of his generation. At one time, broad inferences of this sort had their uses; now, however, they are more often heard in the classroom than found in the history...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR History, science, and the Journal des sçavans
    (pp. 75-90)

    WHETHER HE should record the development of intelligence and the achievements of the arts and sciences or devote his efforts to the description of the play of irrational forces – pride, ambition, superstition and intolerance, xenophobia and chauvinism, and the like – is a question that has faced the historian ever since communal memories began. A chronicler turns with difficulty from the narration of the rivalries of dynasties to the less rousing tale of the gradual comprehension of the natural world through the invention of methods and techniques, the acquisition of accurate knowledge, the creation of works of beauty, and the development...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE ‘Les gens de maintenant’
    (pp. 91-126)

    THE DOGMATISM of Thomas Diafoirus, the dim-witted son of a doctor high in the Faculté de médecine, and thé admirable impertinence of Angélique, daughter of Argan, themalade imaginaire,sum up the issues of Molière’s last comedy. Types they may be, but most of the characters of the play represent points of view in conflict in 1673 and there is much contemporary humanity involved. The spirit of youth, of adventure and delight in experience, new knowledge and an imagined future, confronts the stagnant dogmatism of the schools, the uncriticized legacy of the past. The Rabelaisian father-and-son doctors Diafoirus, grotesquely labeled...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Science and the human comedy: Voltaire
    (pp. 127-148)

    INEVITABLY discussion of the eighteenth century returns to Voltaire. For better or for worse, he represents his time more fully than do any of his contemporaries. The opinions he arouses are expressed with vigor and precision.

    He was a man of the Age of the Academies, as Fontenelle calls it; a member of eighteen of them, from Britain to Italy, from Scandinavia to Spain. He knew how to use the journals for the circulation of his ideas and the furthering of his ends. He wrote in every vein, in every style known in his age — heroic epic and its burlesque,...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Voltaire and British science
    (pp. 149-166)

    IN THE twenty-fourth and last of theLetters concerning the English Nation,‘On the Royal Society and other Academies,’ Voltaire turns from the theatre and ‘The Regard that ought to be shown to Men of Letters’ to the topic of academies. Here he makes special reference to the Royal Society of London and, in the latter part of the letter, to the functions performed by the three most important French bodies, the Académie française, the Académie royale des sciences, and thé Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres. The reader of the mercurial Voltaire has learned not to expect a formal...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT From London to Lapland and Berlin
    (pp. 167-206)

    WHEN PIERRE Louis Moreau de Maupertuis left Paris for London late in May of 1728, he carried letters of introduction to Sir Hans Sloane, successor to Isaac Newton in the presidency of the Royal Society, andassocié étrangerof the Académie royale des sciences. In a brief letter of 22 May, the botanist Bernard de Jussieu remarked he would have liked to accompany Maupertuis ‘qui porte cette lettre.’ Just over three months later, on 4 September, Maupertuis wrote from Paris, thanking Sloane for courtesies and kindnesses, in particular that he had been admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society....

  12. CHAPTER NINE ‘L’homme ... tel qu’il est’
    (pp. 207-212)

    THE TRANSITION from the science of theancienne Franceof Voltaire to that oí theFrance nouvelleof Denis Diderot is well represented by Maupertuis, as he turned about mid-century from the mathematics and physics of his Newtonian period to the study of biology, in particular genetic theory. In his earlier years he had been generally understood by Voltaire, who could learn to write acceptably about optics and the theory of gravitation. Now Maupertuis’ new interests baffled the one-time disciple. The creativity of theVénus physique,theRéflexions philosophiques sur l'origine des langues,théEssai de philosophie morale,and thé...

  13. Index
    (pp. 213-221)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 222-224)