Emilie du Châtelet's Institutions de physique as a document in the history of French Newtonianism

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This paper discusses the contribution of Madame Du Châtelet to the reception of Newtonianism in France prior to her translation of Newton’s Principia. It focuses on her Institutions de physique, a work normally considered for its contribution to the reception of Leibniz in France. By comparing the different editions of the Institutions, I argue that her interest in Newton antedated her interest in Leibniz, and that she did not see Leibniz’s metaphysics as incompatible with Newtonian science. Her Newtonianism can be seen to be in the course of development between 1738 and 1742 and it was shaped by contemporary French debates (for example the vis viva controversy) and the achievement of French Newtonians like Maupertuis in confirming his theories. Her Institutions therefore is linked to the same drive to disseminate Newtonianism undertaken by popularisations such as Voltaire’s Elements de la philosophie de Newton and Algarotti’s Newtonianismo per le dame.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-531
Number of pages17
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number3
Early online date12 Aug 2004
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2004


  • Emilie du Châtelet
  • Isaac Newton
  • Voltaire
  • French reception of Newtonianism


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