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Jean-Baptiste Duhamel

French scientist, philosopher, and theologian, b. June 11, 1624; d. August 6, 1706

Duhamel, JEAN-BAPTISTE, a French scientist, philosopher, and theologian, b. at Vire, Normandy (now in the department of Calvados), June 11, 1624; d. at Paris, August 6, 1706. He began his studies at Caen and completed them at Paris. In 1642, being only eighteen years of age, Duhamel published an explanation of the work of Theodosius called “Spherics”, to which he added a treatise on trigonometry. The following year he entered the Congregation of the Oratory, which he left ten years later to take charge of the parish of Neuilly-sur-Marne. Resigning this position in 1663, he became chancellor of the church of Bayeux. When Colbert founded the Académie des Sciences (1666), he appointed Duhamel its first secretary. Duhamel held this office until 1697, when he resigned and, upon his own recommendation, was succeeded by Fontenelle. With Colbert’s brother, the Marquis de Croissy, he went, in 1668, first to Aix-la-Chapelle for the peace negotiations, and later to England, where he came in touch with the foremost scientists, especially with the physicist Boyle.

Duhamel’s works are “Philosophia moralis christiana” (Angers, 1652); “Astronomia physica” (Paris, 1659); “De meteoris et fossilibus” (Paris, 1659); “De consensu veteris et novae philosophiae” (Paris, 1663), a treatise on natural philosophy in which the Greek and scholastic theories are compared with those of Descartes; “De corporum affectionibus” (Paris, 1670); “De mente humanae” (Paris, 1672); “De corpore animato” (Paris, 1673); “Philosophia vetus et nova ad usum scholae accommodata” (Paris, 1678). This last work, composed by order of Colbert as a textbook for colleges, ran through many editions. He also published: “Theologia speculatrix et practica” (7 vols., Paris, 1690), abridged in five volumes for use as a text-book in seminaries (Paris, 1694); “Regiae scientiarum Academiae historia” (Paris, 1698; enlarged edition, 1701); “Institutiones biblicae” (Paris, 1698), in which are examined the questions of the authority, integrity, and inspiration of the Bible, the value of the Hebrew text and of its translations, the style and method of interpretation, Biblical geography, and chronology; “Biblia sacra Vulgatae editionis” (Paris, 1705), with introductions, notes, chronological, historical, and geographical tables. In his choice of opinions, Duhamel shows great impartiality and unbiased judgment. His admiration for empirical science does not make him despise the speculations of his predecessors, but he examines and criticizes both sides carefully, tries to reconcile them, and, if this be impossible, gives his own opinion. Brucker, in his history of philosophy, calls him “vir et judicii laude clarissimus et doctrinae copia celeberrimus”. Fontenelle praises his noble character and his disinterestedness; his charity, which “was exercised too frequently not to become known, notwithstanding his care to conceal it”; his humility, which was not only on his lips, but was “a feeling based on science itself”.

C. A. DUBRAY


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