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Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales

2012/1 (67th Year)

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To what extent did scholars use science to pursue the good life in the seventeenth century? How to articulate the Scientific Revolution with ethical questions? These are the questions at the core of the investigation led by the historian of science Matthew Jones in his book The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution. At first glance, his project is simply an extension of research on the social history of truth that has encouraged historians for two decades to decipher the moral norms that gave credit to the use and production of scientific knowledge. Civility, politeness, honor led to specific research that highlighted the cultural and social context surrounding the practices of scientific innovation in the Classical Age. This book deepens these questions by asking how mathematical practices were considered moral reflections. This article will discuss the contribution of this book by first examining the three attempts at experimenting mathematical morals led by Descartes, Pascal and Leibniz. The article then shows how Matthew Jones successfully draws on the work of Pierre Hadot by considering mathematical exercises as spiritual exercises. In a third broader step, the article examines how the book exemplifies a return of the moral issue in Anglophone history of science in the last twenty years while the French classical epistemology has avoided this kind of questioning. The article argues that these approaches open up avenues of research for historians to better understand the relationship between science and passion, science and spirituality, and more largely science and religion in the early modern period.


  1. The Practical Morality of Mathematics: Three Routes
  2. The Shadow Cast by Pierre Hadot: Scientific Virtues and Spiritual Exercises
  3. From Moral Philosophies to Mathematical Tests
  4. A Return of Morality in the History of Science?
  5. An Ethics of Truth: Re-Assessing the Cognitive Aspect of Passions
  6. Shifting the Boundary Between Science and Religion

The English version of this issue is published thanks to the support of the CNRS

To cite this article

Stéphane Van Damme, “ Méditations mathématiques ”, Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 1/2012 (67e année) , p. 135-152
URL : www.cairn.info/revue-annales-2012-1-page-135.htm.

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