Endowed molecules and emergent organization : the Maupertuis-Diderot debate

In Tobias Cheung (ed.), Early Science and Medicine. Brill. pp. 38-65 (2010)
  Copy   BIBTEX


At the very beginning of L’Homme-Machine, La Mettrie claims that Leibnizians with their monads have “rather spiritualized matter than materialized the soul”; a few years later Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, President of the Berlin Academy of Sciences and natural philosopher with a strong interest in the modes of transmission of ‘genetic’ information, conceived of living minima which he termed molecules, “endowed with desire, memory and intelligence,” in his Système de la nature ou Essai sur les corps organisés. This text first appeared in Latin in 1751 under the title Dissertatio inauguralis metaphysica de universali naturae systemate, with the pseudonym Dr Baumann; it was translated by Maupertuis in 1754 as Essai sur la formation des corps organisés and was later included in his 1756 Œuvres under the title Système de la nature. Now, it is clear that Maupertuis was a kind of Leibnizian; and that his molecule possessed higher-level, ‘mental’ properties. In that sense he falls under the first category described by La Mettrie. But he was also involved in a debate on this issue with Diderot, who put forth a sustained critique of Maupertuis’ theory of the molecule in the additions to his 1753 Pensées sur l’interprétation de la nature. Where Maupertuis attributes higher-level properties to his living minima, Diderot argues that these properties are ‘organizational’, i.e., they can only be properties of the whole. At issue here is the degree of commitment to a form of materialism.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 74,389

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Review: Sur Maupertuis. [REVIEW]Edouard Morot-Sir - 1978 - Diderot Studies 19:189 - 195.
Pierre Louis Moreau De Maupertuis: A Precursor of Mendel?Iris Sandler - 1983 - Journal of the History of Biology 16 (1):100 - 136.
Forms of Materialist Embodiment.Charles T. Wolfe - 2012 - In Matthew Landers & Brian Muñoz (eds.), Anatomy and the Organization of Knowledge, 1500-1850. Pickering & Chatto.
Maupertuis and the Eighteenth-Century Critique of Preexistence.Michael H. Hoffheimer - 1982 - Journal of the History of Biology 15 (1):119 - 144.


Added to PP

31 (#373,554)

6 months
1 (#415,900)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Charles T. Wolfe
Université de Toulouse Jean-Jaurès

Citations of this work

Newton and Spinoza: On Motion and Matter (and God, of Course).Eric Schliesser - 2012 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 50 (3):436-458.
Epigenesis as Spinozism in Diderot’s Biological Project (Draft).Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - In O. Nachtomy J. E. H. Smith (ed.), The Life Sciences in Early Modern Philosophy. Oxford University Press. pp. 181-201.
Materialism and ‘the Soft Substance of the Brain’: Diderot and Plasticity.Charles T. Wolfe - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24 (5):963-982.
A Dark Business, Full of Shadows: Analogy and Theology in William Harvey.Benjamin Goldberg - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):419-432.
Hume and Vital Materialism.Catherine Wilson - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24 (5):1002-1021.

View all 8 citations / Add more citations

References found in this work

Add more references