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Analytical Mechanics Goes Public

Analytical Mechanics Goes Public

“La Querelle des infiniment petits”

(p.252) Chapter 9 Analytical Mechanics Goes Public
Before Voltaire
J.B. Shank
University of Chicago Press

Varignon’s continued development of analytic mechanics after 1700 is explored, and since his apparent debt to Newton's Principia seems greatest here, its sources are revisited, concluding again that Varignon's science was not directly determined by the Principia. Varignon's use of the Principia in his battles with Michel Rolle, which intensified after 1700, further supports the argument. Rolle's challenge to Varignon's calculus-based science erupted into an academic querelle that quickly became public thanks to the recently instituted mechanisms of the new public academy. Varignon used the new semi-annual academic public assemblies to disseminate his work, and its reception in learned periodicals and in the popular press (the Mercure galant) is examined. Rolle used the Journal des savants to advance his position, and “La Querelle des infiniment petits,” which ensued, pitting Modern infinitesimalists against "Old Style" (aka Ancient) mathematicians, is explored in detail. The entry of the Jesuits on the side of the Ancients through their new periodical begun in 1701, the Journal de Trévoux, is also examined. The chapter traces this public querelle through its hottest period (1701-1706), ending with the arrival of a new antagonists, and Bignon's attempt to end the battle through the imposition of academic discipline.

Keywords:   Pierre Varignon, Michel Rolle, central forces, La Querelle des infiniment petits, academic public assemblies, "Moderns" versus "Old Style" mathematicians, Society of Jesus/Jesuits, Journal de Trevoux, Journal des savants

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