Maupertuis-Diderot debate

Pierre Maupertuis



vs.
Denis Diderot
Pierre Maupertuis
(1698-1758)

Denis Diderot
(1713-1784)
(add synopsis)
In debates, Maupertuis-Diderot debate was a 1750s debate between Frenchmen mathematician-philosopher Pierre Maupertuis (1698-1758) and philosopher-encyclopedist Denis Diderot (1713-1784) described, by Australian philosopher Charles Wolfe, as an “exchange or polemic of two authors trading accusations of atheism” , surrounding the definition of matter and molecule, in respect to the questions of the origins, emergence, and or underlying materialistic nature of cherished concepts such as: life, desire, memory, intelligence, and feelings. [1]

Overview
In 1751, French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher Pierre Maupertuis (1698-1758) published System of Nature: Essay on Organized Bodies, originally under the pseudonym of Dr. Baumann, in which he described a living minima which he termed “molecules”, endowed with “desire, memory, and intelligence.” Herein, Maupertuis explains his views as follows: [2]

“Should we speak here of this absurd system, if a system it is, imagined by an impious philosopher, adorned by a great poet with all the richness of his art, a system that libertines of our time would like to revive? This system admits as principles of the universe only eternal atoms, devoid of feelings and intelligence, the fortuitous encounters of which formed all things: an accidental organization generates the soul, which is destroyed as soon as the organization ceases … Never will the formation of any organized body be explained solely by the physical properties of matter; to be convinced of this one need only read the writings of the philosophers who have tried this explanation, from Epicurus to Descartes.”

Maupertuis, according to Australian philosopher Charles Wolfe (2010), was Leibnizian, of sorts, believing his molecules to possess higher-level ‘mental’ properties. A Leibnizian, according to Wolfe, using Julien la Mettrie’s definition (Man a Machine, 1747), was someone who “spiritualized matter rather than materialized the soul.”

In 1753, French philosopher and encyclopedist Denis Diderot (1713-1784) published Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature, also published anonymously, wherein he began to critique Maupertuis’ living minima theory. [3]

See also
Heisenberg-Pauli dialogue

References
1. Wolfe, Charles T. (2010). “Endowed Molecules and Emergent Organization: the Maupertuis-Diderot Debate” (abs) (Ѻ), Earth Science and Medicine, 15(1-2):38-65; in: Transitions and Boarders Between Animals, Humans and Machines 1600-1800 (editor: Tobias Cheung) (§3:38-65). BRILL, 2010.
2. (a) Maupertuis, Pierre. (1751). System of Nature: Essay on Organized Bodies (Systeme de la nature ou Essai sur les corps organises) (original Latin title: Dissertatio inauguralis metaphysica de universali naturae systemate) (pseudonym: Dr. Baumann). Berlin.
(b) Wolfe, Charles T. (2010). “Endowed Molecules and Emergent Organization: the Maupertuis-Diderot Debate” (abs) (Ѻ), Earth Science and Medicine, 15(1-2):38-65.
3. (a) Diderot, Denis. (1753). Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature (Pensées sur l'interprétation de la nature). Paris.
(b) Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature (French → English) – Wikipedia.
(c) Wolfe, Charles T. (2010). “Endowed Molecules and Emergent Organization: the Maupertuis-Diderot Debate” (abs) (Ѻ), Earth Science and Medicine, 15(1-2):38-65; in: Transitions and Boarders Between Animals, Humans and Machines 1600-1800 (editor: Tobias Cheung) (§3:38-65). BRILL, 2010.

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