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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 1, Issue 1, Fall 2012

Shaping the Republic of Letters: Communication, Correspondence and Networks in Early Modern Europe

J.B. Shank
Pages 151-184

A French Jesuit in the Royal Society of London: Father Louis-Bertrand de Castel, S.J. and Enlightenment Mathematics, 1720–1735

Is it possible for a Parisian Jesuit to be considered an embodiment of Enlightenment? Th is paper argues yes using the case of Louis Betrand de Castel, S.J. Castel is the only French Jesuit ever to be made a fellow of the Royal Society of London, and this paper argues that his admission in 1730 illustrates the shared currents of Enlightenment that brought together this Jesuit with this institution of Enlightenment science. Challenging intellectualist definitions of Enlightenment that defi ne it in terms of philosophical “isms” or alleged unities of belief, I argue that Enlightenment is better described as a new critical spirit born of the changing mediascape of the eighteenth century, and the new patterns of intellectual engagement and sociability that this environment spawned. Castel was a figure of Enlightenment through his work as a journalist and active critic in the mathematical debates of the period. His ideas defy classification under any single label, but his admission to the Royal Society, I argue, was made because of, rather than in spite of, his idiosyncratic scientific positions. Castel, therefore, illustrates an Enlightenment rooted less in any single scientific position or intellectual point view, and more in the new patterns of public critical engagement about all intellectual matters, including mathematics, characteristic of eighteenth-century Europe.

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