Jean le Rond d’Alembert and Enlightenment Philosophy, Its Effects on EnlightenmentJune 27, 2021
D’Alembert (1717-1783) was born in Paris. He studied law. Although he was accepted as a lawyer, he did not practice this profession. He turned to medicine for a while, but later devoted himself entirely to mathematics and became a good mathematician. He submitted a series of essays on mathematics to the Academy of Sciences, and in 1741 he was admitted to the academy.
In addition to his work in mathematics, he collaborated with Diderot in the publication of the Encyclopedia. He wrote the Foreword of the Encyclopedia. And again, he wrote most of the mathematical articles of the Encyclopedia. Fed up with the opposition and potential dangers in 1758, he left the editorship. In fact, being primarily a mathematician and scientist, he has come under less suspicion and attack than other Encyclopedists. In 1759 he published Elements of Philosophy. In 1763 he made a trip to Berlin. He was a close friend of Hume; Hume, who highly valued his moral character and talents, left himself a £200 legacy. In 1775, Pope XIV. He was elected a member of the Bologna Institute at the suggestion of Benedict.
In his Preface to the Encyclopedia, he reported that Locke was the originator of scientific philosophy and filled a place corresponding to Newton’s position in physics. In Elements of Philosophy, he declared that the 18th century was the century of philosophy in a special sense. According to him, natural philosophy gained a revolutionary character in this century, all branches of knowledge were subjected to criticism, and many of them progressed and gained new forms. As a result of this intellectual enthusiasm, some things have lost their importance while a new light has been thrown on some things.
However, by intellectual progress, d’Alambert does not understand a mere accumulation of new facts. In a way reminiscent of Descartes, he asserts that all sciences together are the unfolding of the human mind and emphasizes the unifying function. It accepts that the system of phenomena is homogeneous and uniform” (Copleston, 1995: 50).
It is important to emphasize, however, that d’Alambert has nothing to do with metaphysical issues. According to him, dealing with the essence of things in a metaphysical sense does nothing for us. Metaphysical theories lead people to conflicts and eventually skepticism. We cannot know the whys and causes of things; From the point of view of scientific philosophy, whether we are capable of penetrating the essence of things is an entirely irrelevant question. As long as we can deduce the secondary qualities we perceive from the properties we see as primary in matter as we assume it, and as a result, this will suffice if the general system of phenomena is always uniform and continuous and leaves no room for contradictions. To go from first principles to phenomena is not to infer empirical data from the essence of things; on the contrary, it is to subtract observed secondary qualities from other observed traits seen as more primitive. The task of scientific philosophy is to describe and relate phenomena not in a metaphysical sense, but in a more systematic sense. If one takes the metaphysical path, that is, a search for essence, one goes far beyond what can be called knowledge in the true sense of the word. With these explanations, d’Alambert seems to be the pioneer of positivism. Science has nothing to do with metaphysically mysterious and incomprehensible qualities or substances. Science is only about phenomena, and so is philosophy. This does not mean that the natural philosopher-scientist is not at all concerned with explanation: on the contrary, he constructs distinct definitions on the basis of sense experience and draws some verifiable conclusions from them. But it does not enter into areas that do not offer any definitive information; It does not go beyond phenomena or empirically verifiable objects. Metaphysics must either be a science of facts or remain a field of illusion. As can be seen, d’Alambert examines the tension between metaphysics and natural philosophy (natural science) in his period.
According to d’Alambert, we cannot know the causes of things in the metaphysical sense. The task of scientific philosophy is to describe and relate phenomena not in a metaphysical sense, but in a systematic sense. With these views, d’Alembert is one of the pioneers of positivism.
In terms of his moral view, he, like his other contemporaries, tried to separate morality from theology and metaphysics: According to him, morality is to be conscious of our duty to other people. All moral principles are aimed at establishing the right relationship and balance between our real interest and the fulfillment of our social duties. The moral philosopher must show people his place in society and explain how to use his faculties for common welfare and happiness.
It would not be correct to characterize d’Alambert as a materialist based on his positivist explanations. Because he avoided making explanations about the underlying nature of things, that is, their essence. He also distrusted materialists and mechanists with dogmatic thrift. The most basic feature of his thought is his insistence on positivist methodology. Like Diderot, he said that progress is natural and that mental enlightenment is social.