Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Dr Mihnea Dobre (University of Bucharest)
Jacques Rohault’s Traité de physique between Cartesianism and Newtonianism – historical and historiographical considerations
This talk aims to illustrate some problematic aspects in the use of historiographical categories in the study of an early modern author. Jacques Rohault was often depicted as “the champion of Cartesianism.” He authored a famous book on natural philosophy – the Traité de physique (1671) – quickly translated into Latin (1674) and adopted as a university textbook in several places across Europe. Intriguing for the historians of science is why a Newtonian, such as Samuel Clarke has spent much time to produce several editions of the treatise, after he made a Latin translation in 1697. Clarke’s editions of Rohault were printed several times between 1697 and 1723, and each of them offers insights into the natural philosophical context of the time. Moreover, the production of the treatise in the 1660s adds further difficulties to the contextualization of Rohault’s remarkable textbook.
I discuss how some of the available historiographical categories (Cartesian, Newtonian, but also the rationalist-empiricist distinction) obscure the historical detail and restrict the historian of philosophy and science to a limited set of questions.