La Chimie dans l'histoire, la philosophie, l'art et la littérature

Nombre de places: 30 - Langue: Français et Anglais


Chemistry has played a major role in the development of science and the “scientific revolution” and at the same time, inspired myth, literature, and philosophy. This course will examine the multifaceted history and philosophy of chemistry and the tradition it represents. Redefining the legacy and tradition of chemistry is especially opportune today as increasing scientific specialization and multidisciplinary problem solving are dissolving the boundaries between disciplines, and the heightened public scrutiny and criticism of chemistry tarnishes the image of the field. A particular emphasis will be placed on early chemistry (alchemy) of which, until recently, the true scientific legacy was either ignored or distorted by the accepted history of science. The unique objective of the course will be to reflect deeply on what chemistry really is and what it means to be a chemist.


The major objectives of this course will be to
1) Examine the early history of chemistry (ancient times to the 18th century) with the aid of the most recent scholarship and try to glimpse what the real contribution of early chemistry was to the development of science. Were the early chemists (the alchemists) “real” scientists?

2) Examine the later period (18th – 19th century) to identify the philosophical & methodological ideas unique to chemistry as a science and as an academic tradition. Is there a unique “philosophy of chemistry” as distinct from physics or biology?

3) Examine history as a faraway mirror where we may gain an appreciation of the problems that chemists face today by looking at the analogous problems of previous centuries. To what extent has the motivation of researchers and the public criticism of chemistry changed over the past two thousand years?

3) Appreciate the almost forgotten artistic, mythical, metaphorical and imaginary elements that chemistry has inspired (… just as astronomy has inspired art, myth, metaphor and literature!) Because there is inspiring beauty in the transformation of matter!

The class will be a series of lectures with time for reflection on specific questions in small groups.


Interest in the subject matter, curiosity

Equipe enseignante

Coordinateur :
Kevin Ogle (chimie) Professeur, Chimie-ParisTech

Participants :

Bernard Joly (philosophy), Professeur émérite, UMR 8163, CNRS, Université de Lille

Didier Kahn (literature), Directeur de recherche, CNRS, UMR8599 - CELLF, Université Paris-Sorbonne

Danielle Fauque (history), Attachée au département Etudes sur les Sciences et les Techniques (GHDSO), Université Paris Sud / Université Paris Saclay


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