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The Malebranchian Moment in France and the Cultural Origins of Analytical Mechanics

The Malebranchian Moment in France and the Cultural Origins of Analytical Mechanics

Chapter:
(p.158) Chapter 6 The Malebranchian Moment in France and the Cultural Origins of Analytical Mechanics
Source:
Before Voltaire
Author(s):
J.B. Shank
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226509327.003.0006

This chapter argues for the singular role of Nicolas Malebranche over and above that of Leibniz and Newton in generating analytical mechanics in France in the decades around 1700. It argues first for the importance and widespread influence of Malebranche's philosophy as articulated in his large, multi-volume, and often revised opus La Recherche de la verité, published in many editions between 1674 and Malebranche's death in 1717. In particular, it argues that Malebranche articulated a phenomenalist understanding of scientific knowledge that privileged mathematical analysis, and that his philosophy served as a guiding frame supporting the key innovations that led to analytical mechanics. It also argues that Malebranche's philosophy was widely disseminated and intellectually supported because of its connection to two other features of French intellectual life ca. 1700: the Oratorian religious order and the wide appeal of Cartesian mathematical rationalism, which Malebranche anchored his own philosophy within. The result, the chapter argues, was the emergence of a "Malebranchian Moment" in the decades around 1700 where the widespread cultural awareness of and appeal for Malebranchian thought dominated the culture. This environment was one of the key sources for the emergence of analytical mechanics in France at this precise moment.

Keywords:   Nicolas Malebranche, La Recherche de la Verité, The Malebranchian Moment, The Congregation of the Oratory, René Descartes and Cartesianism, La Mercure galant, skepticism and rational conviction, the errors of the senses and empiricism, mathematical analysis and rapports

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