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The Idea of the Sciences in the French Enlightenment

A Reinterpretation

G. Matthew Adkins

This book traces the development of the idea that the sciences were morally enlightening through an intellectual history of the secrétaires perpétuels of the French Royal Academy of Sciences and their associates from the mid-seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century. Academy secretaries such as Fontenelle and Condorcet were critical to the emergence of a central feature of the narrative of the Enlightenment in that they encouraged the notion that the “philosophical spirit” of the Scientific Revolution, already present among the educated classes, should guide the necessary reformation of society and government according to the ideals of scientific reasoning. The Idea of the Sciences also tells an intellectual history of political radicalization, explaining especially how the marquis de Condorcet came to believe that the sciences could play central a role in guiding the outcome of the Revolution of 1789. « less more »
University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 174Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-61149-474-7 • Hardback • November 2013 • $70.00 • (£44.95)
978-1-61149-475-4 • eBook • November 2013 • $69.99 • (£44.95)
G. Matthew Adkins teaches European history at Columbus State Community College.

1. The Montmor Discourse: Samuel Sorbière and the Foundation of the Royal Academy of Sciences
2. The Esprits Supérieurs: Bernard de Fontenelle’s Academic Eulogies
3. Fear and Loathing in the Courts of Louis XV and Louis XVI: The Science and the Crisis of the Monarchy from Voltaire to Turgot
4. Struggle and Radicalization on the Eve of the Revolution: Condorcet and the Transformation of the Idea of the Sciences
5. The Coming of the Tenth Epoch: The Idea of the Sciences and the Revolution of 1789
About the Author
Adkins provides a fresh intellectual history of the idea of cultivation of the sciences . . . as it relates to individual virtue and political rationality.
American Historical Review

The Idea of the Sciences is a book whose title and introduction promise a discipline enriching 'reinterpretation.' . . . The book will . . . be of interest to historians and philosophers of science, historians of Enlightenment thought, and those interested in the old regime. Its main achievement is its claim that Neostoic philosophy was at the root of a new and politically important moral idea or way of thinking that was forged and explored by early Enlightenment savants. Among them was the enterprising Samuel Sorbière, whose aspirations to secure resources to fund scientific investigation place him in good company in 2014.