Chapter 1 THE ÉCOLE POLYTECHNIQUE AND MATHEMATICS IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE*

Bruno Belhoste

 

 

AUGUSTE COMTE'S MATHEMATICS AND THE ‘POLYTECHNICIENS’

In Auguste Comte's classification of the sciences, mathematics took up a special place at the opening of the encyclopedic series, both as the first term and as the basis of his Cours de philosophie positive [Comte 1830–1842, vol. 1, 2nd lesson]. Indeed it constituted ‘the most powerful instrument that the human mind can use in its study of natural phenomena.’ Through its ‘rigorous universality,’ mathematics provided the best model for what a science should be. The other fundamental sciences in the series—astronomy, physics, chemistry, physiology, and sociology—were themselves classified according ...

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