Émilie Du Châtelet and the Struggle between Science and Philosophy

Collaborative Group

Professor Andrew Janiak, Professor Karen Detlefsen




During the height of the French Enlightenment, Émilie Du Châtelet (1706-1749) tackled the pressing question of how philosophy could provide a metaphysical foundation for the Newtonian physics then spreading through Europe. Unjustly overshadowed by her famous collaborator, Voltaire, Châtelet employed rigorous argumentation, dashes of irony, and unusual wit to flout the gender conventions of her day. Her magnum opus, Foundations of physics (Paris, 1740), is a tour de force that highlighted how philosophy and the new science could be united together in a single intellectual vision of the world. The collaborators build on their expertise in early modern women philosophers and in early modern Newtonianism and bring together fields that rarely interact: the history of early modern philosophy, the study of gender relations in Enlightenment Europe, and the history of modern physics. This project will culminate in the first English-language monograph on Châtelet’s philosophy and its intellectual landscape, examining her substantial philosophical influence and the unique challenges she faced as a woman writing in the mid-eighteenth century. Award period: June 1, 2013 – August 31, 2014