Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Not appropriate to hold a conference on Duhem?

As you read that title, you may have wondered what is going on. Do you detect a certain sort of doubt, or perhaps a tone of sarcasm here?

I hope you did. It is hard to imagine what will happen in the next five years, though of course much depends on what you and I are able to accomplish in that time. I certainly hope there will be a conference - perhaps two, one on each side of the Atlantic. Certainly there needs to be some serious study of Duhem - I still wish to see an English translation of Le Système du monde and his study of Leonardo - indeed, a complete edition of his collected works, in both French and English - and there are several other lesser projects too. But without fail there must be some sort of meeting which must include a proper celebration.

However. And I say this with some childish delight, because as I am presently examining Jaki's study of Duhem, I learned something curious about Duhem which makes me wonder just how appropriate it would be to hold such a conference at all! Here, let me show you:
The day of Duhem's anniversary [of his death] was duly marked by the loyalty of his friends. One of them was the Abbé Lethellieux, director of the Revue des Jeunes, a bimonthly aimed at university students, who secured two contributions on Duhem. The first, to appear in the August 10 issue, was written by François Mentré who, as a specialist on Cournot's philosophy, was, as will be seen, very familiar with Duhem's works pertaining to the philosophy of science. Almost an entire shelf in his library, Mentré noted at the outset, was filled with Duhem's publications. Mentré had hoped to meet Duhem in person at the Congrès de philosophie et d'histoire des sciences in Geneva in 1904, but Duhem, who at the urging of Paul Tannery sent a paper, informed Mentré in a letter of his horror of attending such 'Babylons.' Whereas Duhem's dislike of congresses was fairly well known, it is only through Mentré that a precious glimpse of Duhem's reflections on the history of experimental method became available to the public. Mentré quoted from a letter, which Duhem wrote on October 24, 1913, in response to Mentré's congratulations on Duhem's findings about Buridan, Oresme, and others: 'Your letter,' Duhem wrote, 'showed me that you have been greatly preoccupied by a thought which has been haunting me for a long time. The progress of experimental method has been conditioned by the progress of industrial technique and, in particular, by the [progess of] the glass industry. This was, I believe, the topic of my last conversation with my venerable friend Jules Tannery... I would gladly know of an alert investigator who would do on this topic a research which neither you nor I can undertake. I bet he would arrive at interesting results.'
[SLJ Uneasy Genius: the Life and Work of Pierre Duhem 231, emphasis added]
Ah, doctor - so you think because "Duhem's dislike of congresses was fairly well known" we ought not have a conference?

No; I wanted to get your attention. Read that first line again:
The day of Duhem's anniversary was duly marked by the loyalty of his friends.
So I think it ought to be clear we should have the great Duhem Conference to include Wednesday September 14, 2016, with a solemn Mass and great anniversary talks and a banquet. We, his friends and students from all over the world, must mark the century with our loyalty.

God willing, let us plan for this.


Alan Aversa said...

Perhaps in conjunction with a conference on River Forest Thomism?

Ron Van Wegen said...

I'm currently ploughing through everything I can find re Father Jaki (and where he points me). I am astounded at how significant his work was/is. I'm no scientist but I'll try to be at whatever drinking party (oops - I mean Scientific Congress) you organize.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see this and any subsequent conferences/seminars work out a way to make more of the honored representative's books more available and at lower prices.

Also I'd like to find a way to produce a book that sums up Fr. Jaki's findings, his keen awareness and insights into science and philosophy, and maybe a full length book that lays out the working principles in clear language for a college student. Something that can be used in context of study, very concise and coherent, in order to correct the scientistic mindset without having to read all of Duhem and Jaki's books.