Volume 8, Issue 2, Fall 2019
Sur le progres des sciences
Maupertuis and Bacon on the Advancement of Knowledge
This paper investigates the Baconian roots of Maupertuis’s Lettre XIX. Sur le Progrès des Sciences (1752). The Letter was published almost a decade after Maupertuis had accepted Frederick II’s invitation to move from Paris to Berlin and become the new President of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Contrary to the secondary literature that identifies a distinction between Maupertuis’s Parisian and Berliner phases, this paper argues that there is in fact greater continuity between the two. Based on a reading that emphasizes the programmatic and methodological commonalities between Bacon’s project in De augmentis scientiarum (1623) and Maupertuis’s Lettre XIX, this paper argues that, in a Baconian fashion, Maupertuis combines the roles of the “scientist” and the “natural philosopher” into an integrated plan of action with both intellectual an institutional aims. One of Maupertuis’s aims was to highlight the importance of observation and experiment not only in the development of natural philosophy but also for some aspects of speculative philosophy, while another of his aims was to reinvigorate the structure of the Berlin Academy and to model it the fashion of other similar European intellectual projects of that time.