Rival Idioms for a Revolutionized Science and a Republican Citizenry
- This essay examines a conflict about language that penetrated to the core of French Enlightenment science and revolutionary politics. The conflict involved two conceptions of language that the essay proposes to characterize as "cultural" and "social." This rivalry of idioms was at the center of two of the major disputes of the period: the controversy surrounding Lavoisier's and his collaborators' new chemical nomenclature of 1787 and the concurrent debate over a revolutionary system of civic education. The first of these disputes is scientific and the second political, so historians have tended to treat them separately. But they centrally involved some of the same people and many of the same arguments. Moreover, their major protagonists agreed that the projects of natural and moral science, philosophy and governing, were united by an underlying action of language in the shaping of ideas. At the same time, they disagreed, sometimes violently, about the nature of this action. The competition between cultural and social conceptions of language, moving between the controversies over the function of language in chemistry and in public instruction, dramatizes an often-overlooked interaction between science and politics, not through established fact or proven principle, but through shared disagreements.
|Type of resource
|February 10, 2023; 1998
|History of chemistry
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