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Epistemic Optimism in Enlightenment Natural Philosophy : Metaphysics and Experimental Philosophy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EPISTOP (Epistemic Optimism in Enlightenment Natural Philosophy : Metaphysics and Experimental Philosophy)

Período documentado: 2017-09-01 hasta 2019-08-31

* The historiography of eighteenth-century scientific methodology tends to portray the persistence of metaphysics as the sign of resistance to modernity and modern science, leaving the potential interaction between metaphysics and early modern science uncharted. The EPISTOP project provides a historiographical re-evaluation of metaphysical considerations within eighteenth-century natural philosophy.

* The aim of this research project is to bring a twofold shift to this traditional interpretation. First, by shedding light on the significance of other experimental traditions, some older than and some contemporary with the Newtonian experimental philosophy, that explain how Newton’s natural philosophy was received and, second and most importantly, by showing that within a number of eighteenth-century scientific methodologies there were infact fertile interactions between experimentation and metaphysics. The project will focus on the Dutch Republic from 1690 to 1750, because it provides us with a clear case of how Newton’s Principia and Opticks were received within an already existing experimental context and because Dutch natural philosophy was prototypical of the experimental philosophy which was burgeoning at the time. The focus of this project is on two questions that occupied eighteenth-century scientists: 1. What sort of knowledge do experiments provide us with?, and 2. How can it be rendered certain? The project will study the development of experimental philosophy in the Dutch Republic, and pinpoint how it reconfigured epistemic concerns without totally erasing metaphysical preoccupations. In this context, the hypothesis of ‘epistemic optimism’ is introduced as a heuristic tool. 'Epistemic optimism' refers to an awareness that our epistemic capacities are limited combined with a certain epistemic confidence that we will be able to push back these limitation at some later time. The originality of my project lies in its endeavour to account for the epistemic devices employed by certain early eighteenth-century savants by using categories from general philosophy of science (robustness, uncertainty logic, statement falsifiability, etc.).

* We live in a period where we unceasingly discover new entities, new stars, new medical treatments, etc., i.e. in a period where the question of pushing back the limits of our knowledge is fundamental. Our interpretation of Enlightenment can be useful or at least inspiring for understanding epistemically comparable situations.
During the EPISTOP Marie Curie fellowship, efforts were concentrated on two dimensions:

* From a gender perspective, research has focused on the 'Institutions de Physique' by Emilie du Châtelet, and the posterity of her main epistemological views in the 'Encyclopédie'. What is interesting about working on Du Châtelet is her work provides a clear example of how metaphysical considerations were fruitfully combined with experimental physics. Additionally, this research is a contribution to put women philosophers and natural philosophers on the scholarly agenda. Emilie du Châtelet's proposed a unique combination of experimental philosophy and metaphysics that cannot be understood without the aforementioned hypothesis of ‘epistemic optimism’. The publications on du Châtelet that were written during the duration of the fellowship appeared in the journals 'Philosophiques' (2017) and 'Paragraph' (2017), and in the edited collection 'Emilie du Châtelet und die deutsche Aufklärung' (2019).

* From a historiographical point of view, a serious reconsideration of the interaction between metaphysics and experimental philosophy in the Dutch Republic was pursued, and the results of it can be found in the researcher's monograph 'Les certitudes des Lumières' which has been accepted for publication with Classiques Garnier, Paris and is currently in press. Substantial work for this monograph was undertaking during the duration of the fellowship, and an English version is currently being prepared. Furthermore, a book chapter on W.J. 's Gravesande's experimental style was published in the edited collection 'What does it mean to be an Empiricist?'. Again, it was argued that the notion of 'epistemic optimism' allows to gain more insight on 's Gravesande's experimental philosophy.
* The EPISTOP project has made it possible to introduce and make plausible the hypothesis of epistemic optimism which goes beyond the state of the art which is characterized by unfruitful oppositions (e.g. 'rationalists' vs. 'empiricists') and a Newton-centred focus. The main results of the EPISTOP project are to be found in the researcher's monograph 'Les certitudes des Lumières' which is in press with Classiques Garnier, Paris. This monograph moves beyond the state of the art because it opens up new vistas on eighteenth-century natural philosophy by introducing the notion of 'epistemic optimism'.

* The EPISTOP project has focused on the interaction between metaphysics and experimental philosophy in the eighteenth-century Dutch Republic, and to some extent in France. Future work could reveal the fruitfulness of the notion of 'epistemic optimism' in other European scientific centres, and potentially result into a significant reevaluation of the interaction between metaphysics and experimental philosophy, more specifically, or natural philosophy, more generally, in other parts of Europe. More broadly, the EPISTOP project has laid the foundation for a reevaluation of Enlightenment Science.

* The project has contributed significantly to the professional career of the researcher, because at the end of 2018 she got a full professorship position in one of the most famous Parisian universities: University Paris Nanterre.