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

Nombre de places: 35 - 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. We will explore philosophical questions such as the nature of chemical knowledge, theory, and ethical questions that are shaped by chemistry and the chemical industry. The unique objective of the course will be to reflect deeply on what chemistry really is and what it means to be a chemist.
Learning objectives include:

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?

4) Examine our conceptions of elements and substances, how substances interrelate with each other, and the impact of chemistry on contemporary society and the ethical questions that chemistry and the chemical industry creates.

Where are we now and where should we be going?

5) 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!


Evaluation will be based on participation and on a final, personal essay about the questions raised by this class.


The class will include lectures, in-class group activities, and a field trip. Grades will be determined by participation in class and a final essay. Lectures will be in French (75%) and in English (25%).

International guests will include Professor Peter Forshaw from the University of Amsterdam and Jean-Pierre Llored from the Ecole Centrale de Casablanca.


Prerequisites: Curiosity and an interest in the subject matter.

Equipe enseignante

In order of appearance
Kevin Ogle (chemistry) Professor, Chimie-ParisTech (Coordinator).
Bernard Joly (philosophy) Professor Emeritus, Université de Lille.
Didier Kahn (literature) Research Director (CNRS), Université Paris-Sorbonne.
Bernard Bodo (history of chemistry) Emeritus Professor, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris.

Invited Guest Lecturers:
Peter Forshaw (history) Professor, University of Amsterdam
Jean-Pierre Llored (philosophy) , Professor, Ecole Centrale de Casablanca.


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