Jacques Rohault and the natural sciences
University of Cambridge
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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McClaughlin, T. (1972). Jacques Rohault and the natural sciences (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11460
In writing this dissertation I have aimed at giving a description and analysis of the career of Jacques Rohault and his work in the natural sciences. More specifically, I have attempted to identify the sources of inspiration of his Traité de Physique. Most historians of science have paid little more than casual homage to Rohault's work as a synthesiser and propagandist of Descartes' natural philosophy. A few enthusiasts, however, have recognised that the Traité de Physique and the different versions of Samuel Clarke's notes to its Latin and English translations were the arena of a Descartes-Newton contest in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. I sought to contribute to an understanding of this contest by examining how Rohault's Traité came to be written. Another outstanding contributor to Rohault studies was Paul Mouy, whose book Le Développement de la Physique Cartésienne, first aroused my interest and encouraged me to view Rohault's work in its mid-seventeenth century context. In addition, my debt to a host of other scholars is great. I hope that my footnotes and list of sources will serve as a partial acknowledgement of that debt. The work is divided into three parts. Part one is introductory and is an attempt at an objective description of Rohault's career. It gives an account of his early life and education, defines the limits of his success and describes his scientific publications.The second part, on Rohault's concept of science, is an internalist analysis of the characteristic features of the Traité de Physique. It is evident, here, that Rohault's principal aim was to find experimental data to corroborate Descartes' all-explanatory system of the physical world. Part three, in which an externalist method is used, is a more subjective interpretation inspired by the belief that French natural philosophers of the mid-seventeenth century were conditioned by the whole weight of their culture. Instead of giving a panoramic description of that culture I have chosen to examine the part which is important to an understanding of Rohault. To support my argument I have conducted a detailed examination of how Theophraste Renaudot, the Academie des Sciences, Jacques Rohault and French cartesians were influenced by different types of censorship, and in this way place Rohault in a larger historical context.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11460