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The Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris and the birth of historical epistemology

Abstract : The Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris, created in 1699, is deeply renewed in 1699 under the impetus of Pontchartrain, minister of Louis XIV. It adopts a new regulation, which will mark the organization of the institution throughout the eighteenth century, but above all, it decides to give to the public, every year, a publication presenting the activities of the institution, the Histoire et Mémoires de l’Académie Royale des Sciences, written by the perpetual secretary. Bernard de Fontenelle is naturally chosen for this position. The author of Entretiens sur la pluralité des Mondes had already proved himself to be a man of science who knew how to be a wise interpreter of the different forms of knowledge, according to the aesthetic and intellectual codes of the most demanding readers. But Fontenelle seizes the opportunity to act as a true historian of the new knowledge : the volumes of the Histoire de l’Académie Royale des Sciences, which he drafts between 1699 and 1740, are not only the record of the progressive construction of the royal institution, they offer above all a panorama of the progress of the human mind in a fundamentally modern dynamic. Fontenelle's work at the Académie des Sciences is therefore not totally subordinate to the demands imposed by his situation. If the perpetual secretary satisfies rigorously the expectations of the institution by reinforcing the project of scientific policy of the Company, it does not bring less its personal touch, by a work of rich composition, in which he sets up a real historical epistemology that will profoundly influence French Enlightenment.
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Maria-Susana Seguin. The Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris and the birth of historical epistemology. Ordering Knowledge before the Organisation of Disciplines: Learning and Culture in the shaping of European Modernity, Jean-Jacques Chardin, Sorana Corneanu and Richard Somerset, dir., Manchester University Press, à paraître., In press. ⟨halshs-02329761v2⟩

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