nominated Volkskrant-IISG thesis contest

The Master thesis of Joppe van Driel, PhD-student long term development of Science and Technology at the MB-Department STePS, has been nominated for the prestigious Volkskrant-IISG scriptieprijs ( Joppe’s thesis on science in the enlightenment by focusing on the career of the mathematician and experimental philosopher Jean de Castillon, was ranked by the competition jury among the top three that will compete for the Volkskrant-IISG thesis price. On December 8 2011 the competition winner will be announced in the Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis (Cruquiusweg 31, 1019 AT Amsterdam).

Thesis title and abstract:

Enlightening the matter of science

The anti-materialistic Enlightenment philosophy of Jean de Castillon (1709-1791)

In the course of his international career as a mathematician and experimental philosopher, Castillon developed a non-reductionistic scientific method. Along the way, he engaged in dialectics with Rousseau, Hume and d’Holbach, refiguring their moral, skeptic and materialist discourse in order to picture a science of nature that was to be both compatible with religious belief and revealed truth and an essential factor in the overthrow of the Christian status quo by secularizing theology and morality. Therewith, his life and work form an illuminating Enlightenment story. By coupling Castillon’s career path to an analysis of the intellectual debates in which he engaged, this thesis integrates various local historical studies of Enlightenment thought and practice into a single narrative, arguing that: (1) The dichotomous historiography that divides the Enlightenment into radical and conservative camps – which has become the standard since Jonathan Israel’s work – fails to grasp the methodological discussions that were central to Enlightenment discourse. An alternative is presented that interprets both camps as exponents of a dialectic of secular theology, which aimed to establish a rigorous scientific methodology that subsumed also moral and religious questions. (2) The mid-eighteenth century critical reaction to materialism forms a missing link in the history of philosophy, connecting Locke, Hume and Leibniz with the later Kantian philosophy. (3) The large-scale notion of ‘science’, as a general concept unifying different disciplines, only emerged in the mid-to-late-eighteenth century; conceptual innovation and institutional practices interacted to make its development possible.