Pierre Maupertuis

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In existographies, Pierre Maupertuis (257-197 BE) (1698-1758 ACM) (IQ:185|#150) (ID:3.08|60) (Cattell 1000:598) (RGM:616|1,350+) (PR:5,423|65AE / mathematician:90) (SN:60) (Eells 100:59) (GPE:66) (GME:#) (EVT:9) (FA:89) (CR:30) (LH:5) (TL:35) was a French mathematician, physicist, philosopher, evolutionist, and radical materialist, noted for []



In 1728, Maupertuis went to London becoming a member of the Royal Society, became and ardent supporter of Newton’s theory of gravity, at a time when it was being opposed in France, in favor of Cartesian vortices.

In 1732, Maupertuis, in his Discourse on the Various Figures of Stars[1], became the first French person, according to Jean Alembert, to declare himself openly an adherent of Newton.

“The first among us who dared to declare himself openly Newtonian, is the author of the Discours sur la figure des astres […]. Maupertuis believed that one could be a good citizen without blindly adopting the physics of his country, and to attack this physics, he needed courage for which we must be grateful.”
Jean Alembert (1751), “Preliminary Discourse”[2] (pg. 114), in: Encyclopedia

Here, we recall Peter Tait, who went to great lengths to defend "British physics", e.g. the physics of his friend William Thomson, over everybody else, e.g. German physics, French physics, American thermodynamics, which but resulted in great confusion.

Lapland | Expedition

An illustration of Maupertuis showing that the earth is flattened at the poles, which he proved by traveling to Lapland to take measurements.

In 1736, Maupertuis headed an expedition to Lapland to demonstrate the flattening of the of the earth toward the poles, a phenomenon predicted by Newtonian theory.[3]

Newton established that the Earth has, because of the universal attraction, the shape of a ellipsoid of revolution, flattened at the poles, thus opposing the Cartesian advocate Jacques Cassini, who affirms on the contrary that it is bulging at the level of the poles.

Venus Physics

In 1745, Maupertuis, in his Venus Physics: Dissertation on the Origin of Men and Animals, published anonymously, presented an argument against the then dominant biological theory of the preformation of the embryo.

Maupertuis tends to be grouped with Buffon and John Needham, as a spontaneous generation theorist, who argued that that there was an life-generating force inherent in certain kinds of inorganic matter that caused living microbes to create themselves in time.

Principle of least action

In 1746, soon after becoming director of the Berlin Academy, enunciated the "principle of least action"; the following is one summary of this:

“The laws of movement thus deduced, from the principle of least action, being found to be precisely the same as those observed in nature, we can admire the application of it to all phenomena, in the movement of animals, in the vegetation of plants, in the revolution of the heavenly bodies: and the spectacle of the universe becomes so much the grander, so much the more beautiful, so much more worthy of its author. These laws, so beautiful and so simple, are perhaps the only ones which the creator and organizer of things has established in matter in order to effect all the phenomena of the visible world.”
— Pierre Maupertuis (c.1746), Publication[4]

In 1750, in his Essay on Cosmology (Essai de Cosmologie), he formally published the basics of the principle. This principle was later given a more rigorous treatment by Joseph Lagrange.


A photo of Maupertuis pointing to his Venus Physics: a Dissertation on the Origin of Humans and Animals (1745).

In 1749, Maupertuis, in his Essay on Moral Philosophy, defended Christianity against pagan doctrines.

In 1751, Maupertuis, under the pseudonym of “Doctor Baumann”, published (in Latin) a Dissertatio Inauguralis Metaphysica de Universali Naturæ Systemate, which was translated into French, and included in the complete edition of his Works under the name System of Nature, in which he develops the hypothesis of a universal panpsychism (in opposition to the materialist and mechanistic vision) in which the elements, with perception and consciousness, arrange and unite by virtue of an immanent order established by god.[5]

This work is severely criticized by Diderot, who accuses Maupertuis of Spinozism. Supposedly, however, the ideas of Maupertuis are closer to Leibniz, Newton, and Malebranche, then to Spinoza. In this work, he attacked the mechanism of Epicurus and Descartes.[6]


In 1752, Maupertuis, in his Letters, Volume Four, outlined and idea of ​​the pure phenomenal existence of the physical world, resulting in a form of empirical idealism similar to George Berkeley .



Maupertuis was influenced by: Johann Bernoulli (teacher).


Maupertuis associated with: Samuel Konig, Julien Mettrie (friend).


Maupertuis influenced: Emilie Chatelet (student).


Quotes | On

The following are quotes:

“The brilliance of much of what he did was undermined by his tendency to leave work unfinished, his failure to realize his own potential: it was the insight of genius that led him to least-action principle, but a lack of intellectual energy or rigor that prevented his giving it the mathematical foundation that Lagrange would provide. ... he reveals remarkable powers of perception in heredity, in understanding the mechanism by which species developed, even in immunology, but no fully elaborated theory. His philosophical work is his most enthralling: bold, exciting, well argued.”
— David Beeson (1992), Maupertuis: an Intellectual Biography (pg. 5)[7]
Maupertuis ascribed to ‘corpuscle’ not only life but intelligence, for how else could the beings made from them be intelligent? He argued that this intelligence appears by degrees in matter, from stones to plants to animals. And Maupertuis maintained that the degree of intelligence attained by the whole organism was not merely a matter of amount, but depends also on the arrangement of the particles: it was a consequence of organization”
Philip Ball (2011), Unnatural: the Heretical Idea of Making People (pg. 125) [8]

End matter


  1. Maupertuis, Pierre. (1732). Discourse on the Figures of Stars (Discours sur la figure des astres). Publisher.
  2. Preliminary Discourse of the Encyclopedia (French → English) – Wikipedia.
  3. Glass, Bentley. (1947). “Maupertuis and the Beginning of Genetics” (Jst), The Quarterly Review of Biology, 22(3):196-210.
  4. Pierre Maupertuis – MacTutor.
  5. Maupertuis, Pierre. (1768). Works, Volume Two (pg. 184). Lyon.
  6. Pierre Maupertuis (French → English) – Wikipedia.
  7. Beeson, David. (1992), Maupertuis: an Intellectual Biography (pg. 5). Publisher.
  8. Ball, Philip. (2011). Unnatural: the Heretical Idea of Making People (GB). Vintage.


  • Maupertuis, Pierre. (1744). “Agreement on the Different Laws of Nature” (“Accord de différentes lois de la nature”). Publisher.
  • Maupertuis, Pierre. (1744). “Dissertation on the White Negro” (“Dissertation sur le négre blanc”). Publisher.
  • Maupertuis, Pierre. (1745). Venus Physics: Dissertation on the Origin of Men and Animals (Vénus Physique: Dissertation sur L’Origine des Hommes et des Animaux) (abs). Publisher, 1746.

External links

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