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How to become a philosophical capital in Europe

How to produce local knowledge in an European Capital ? The territorialization of Science in Paris from Descartes to Rousseau

Stéphane Van Damme

Notes de la rédaction

Paper given at the departmental seminar of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, November 2004. I express my gratitude to Simon Schaffer for his invitation and his comments.
Draft paper – not quote whitout author’s permission

Texte intégral

1Nowadays, local knowledge seems to be synonymous with indigenous knowledge, traditional knowledge and seems to be linked with the idea of small territory. Unesco organizes a vast gathering and collect of local knowledge all over the world, “ to understand the relations between indigenous knowledge and NGO’s with respect to the preservation of biodiversity ”1. Numerous disciplines try to rediscover indigenous knowledge, take into account local representation or practices of nature. After several years of empirical research, in a recent seminar held in Paris in May 2002, experts and developers raised finally the question of scale : how to define local knowledge by place, by social class, religion, gender, age, etc. ? In this story, local knowledge seems to be the result of the appropriation as well as the object. As the anthropologist Sarah Franklin argued recently :

Cross-cultural comparisons of Western science and indigenous knowledge systems shed lith on the overlaps and disjunctures between them, calling into question the claims of universality that science often makes2.

2The attention paid to ethnoscience is a very important issue in the field of general anthropology. The issues surrounding local knowledge, which have for a decade been of concern to ethnologists, geographers and even sociologists of knowledge, can offer some useful methodological foundations for rethinking this link between knowledge and local identity. Even philosophy is influenced by this program by the study of ethnophilosophy in Africa3. But the definition of local knowledge is neither easy nor clear, it remains problematic and places the emphasis on practices of classification or the categorization of cultural activities4. As in the “ translations ” process described by Latour and Callon, local knowledge are no longer there but are produced by comparisons, categorization, rationalization ruled by outsiders who manufactured universal knowledge.

3Far from this world of local knowledge, the metropolis and capitals in general are condemned to be global cities with universal knowledge, forgetting their local identity5. Actually, several recent works in history of science and urban studies paid more attention to the role played in shaping both scientific practices and city in Europe by examining

[...] the relationship between scientific expertise and urban politics ; science’s role in cultural representation of the city or the embedment of scientific activities in social and material infracstructure6.

4In the recent conference in Paris in 1998 about cultural capitals organised by the social historian Christophe Charle, capitals’ superior global command over cultural resources reorganize time and space7. In the wake of Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology, the process of accumulation is the basis of the cultural dynamics of capital circulation. In this grand narrative, from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century, capitalist economic dynamics continue to dominate localities and to dictate the agenda of innovation. The conversion of knowledge into “ symbolic capital ”, following Bourdieu, does not result in a simple accumulation of data and of facilities. If, the global networks of wealth and power accumulate and exchange information instantaneously as a central source of institutional power, the economies of knowledge in Paris, Rome or London are different and do not contribute in the same way to the creation of these “ places. ” We must therefore reinterpret the notion of symbolic capital in this context by giving it a dynamic and conflictual dimension and the stress on local knowledge could help us to locate these point of passage to universal.

5In seeking to displace the reliance of social history of science on grand narratives of macro-social development8, such as the analysis of the ‘colonial machine’, some historians of science have posited a grand theory of local knowledge which privileges the ethnographic conversation, the local interaction, and the tacit knowledge built by indigenous people (we can mention several works on the history of cartography)9. But they contributed also to dissolving the problematic of ‘capitals’ as a center of knowledge by privileging short circles of diffusion against long-distance networks. Understanding the social construction of knowledge in the city should not simply shift our attention from macropolitics to micropolitics dicernible through ethnographic inquiry, nor are deducible from purely macro-structural logics or mechanisms as in Bourdieu’s interpretation. The co-construction of urban identity and knowledge. By paying more attention to the distribution of networks and local interactions through these cities, geographical enlargement can lead to a European typography of localisms and of the various forms of universalisation10.

6Actually, it also requires to consider the capacity of an urban milieu to exploit and diversify its forms of knowledge. During the eighteenth century, communities of scholars formed new alliances. The localization of intellectual practices has some particular effects on a new definition of the modern city11. Conversely, the emergence of an internationalization of knowledge involves differentiating the effects on the urban hierarchy and reconfigures the recognition of urban greatness. The research thus must be oriented towards a more precise examination of the “ tools of scale ”, understood as the instruments of the conversion of a city into a universal; this involves the recognition of an expertise, the attraction and centralization of information, the multiplication of locations for analyzing information, the establishment of frameworks for publicity, etc12. This idea must also take seriously the “ tests of greatness ” that the actors and institutions elaborate, from city to city13. This invites a rethinking of the borders of science and the concrete processes by which certain types of knowledge have their roots in localities, whereas others have a claim to universal application and reception. How do knowledge become local? The classic division between theoretical and universal types of knowledge on the one hand, and practical and therefore local types of knowledge on the other, must be re-examined from the perspective of the Paris experience. By comparing the different orders of knowledge and juxtaposing ‘book knowledge' with ‘on-the-field science', and ‘practical knowledge' with ‘active knowledge', the fluidity of these concepts and the diversity of their uses by Parisian scientists will be examined. In the case of Paris, capital of science, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I would like to investigate the process of making local knowledge in a global city, to understand the multifaceted strategies which supported the recognition of local regime of knowledge. Three processes would be distinguished here.

The naming of Parisian sciences : celebrating autochtony or short networking ?

7What is at stake in this claim of local knowledge by the print. Defining a new authorship, celebrating autochtony or revealing short network within the city ? In the first part, we can examine the problem of making of Parisian medical knowledge.


8When you investigate the National library catalogue, you find very few references to Parisian knowledge marked in the title. Let us begin by an examination of the first published Parisian pharmacopee in 1638 which it may constitute a case study. At the beginning of the 17th century, if apothecaries still drew inspiration from Nicolas and Mesué’s antidotaries, they also sought to establish more current pharmacopeas like that of Paris. The first edition of this collection, published in 1638, carried the title Codex medicamentarius seu pharmacopoea parisiensis, and carried mention of the medical faculty of the University of Paris. This text is composed of a preface to the reader ; a catalogue of the doctors in the faculty of medicine in Paris in 1638 ; and finally a list of medicines organized in alphabetical order.  The work also presents a long extract from the registers of the Parlement which explains the context of its publication :

By Decision of 3 August 1590, it has been ordered, that for the public good the Faculty of Medicine will assemble in order to elect six Doctors from itself, who will draw up in writing a Dispensary, containing the botanical herbs and composites, which the Apothecaries of Paris must stock in their boutiques.  And since the Court was informed of negligence, it named the 25 October 1590 seventeen Doctors of the Faculty, whom the aforementioned Court enjoined to draw up in writing the aforementioned Dispensary, and to certify this to the Court in the three months which follow.

9The regulation of remedies was one element in the process of incorporating apothecaries and surgeons that the king had begun in 1598 throughout the kingdom :

Also prohibit with the same penalties all Apothecaries and grocers, to give any medicine to the ill with other receipts or prescriptions than those of the Doctors of the aforementioned Faculty or which will be approved by them, the Doctors-ordinary of the King and those of Royal blood […]14.

10The decision explicitly held sawy in Paris and gave the Provost of Merchants the jurisdiction to see to its execution. The letters patents produced during the first two thirds of the 17th century marked the diffusion of corporations of apothecaries in the provinces.  These creations might also have been the result of a demand for recognition emanating from local apothecaries themselves.  Thus in Pontoise, the corporation founded in 1653 seems to have been the fruit of negotiation between a group of practitioners and the civil lieutenant representating the king.  Their right to regulate the profession in a region defined by the jurisdiction of the royal court was recognized15. This right was generally conferred upon the largest town in the region.

Local professionalization

11Secondly, the decision must be seen in the context of policies which aimed at distinguishing between grocers and apothecaries in Paris.  The power to recommend medicines must henceforth acknowledge the knowledge of apothecaries. The publication of the Codex in 1638 takes place at the same time as the society of apothecaries of Paris which proclaims the separation of the two groups, even if this separation existed since 1353.  The publication of the Codex sought to clarify the statutes and in particular regulate the possibilities of entry.16

12Finally, this text testifies to a desire to renew the contours of medical knowledge. The increasing power of the doctors in the Faculty over apothecaries made it necessary to draw up a common pharmaceutical book capable of unifying the compilations produced by local doctors17. In 1574, the Faculty of Montpellier imposed its own pharmacopea, the Faculty of Poitiers produced an antidotary in 1611, Paris had its own in 1638. This triple demand, at once corporatist, professional, and mercantile, explains the maintenance of this qualification. The reference to Paris evokes the same system of referentiality as in the publication of lectures in philosophy or mathematics, where the author takes care to specify from where he is speaking.  This is by no means specific to Paris, but is found in other capitals. Thus, in 17th century London, the establishment of a London codex inspires rivalries and disputes between authorized and illicit practitioners. First integrated within the grocers guild, the apothecaries obtain in 1617 the right to form a separate corporation. They then create the Worshipful Society of the Art and Mystery of the Apothicaries of the City of London, which has the right to dispense and sell remedies in London and within a radius of 7 miles around the city18. In 1618, the college of Physicians publishes on royal commission its Pharmacopea Londinensis. It was republished up until 1788. Other authors who did not belong to this college, however, published their own book.  An English version was published in 1649 by Nicholas Culpeper, and again in 1683, The London Dispensatory. William Salmon published in 1678 a New London Dispensatory. In this context, the fight between authors is situated on the terrain of the monopoly over local knowledge. In Paris, in contrast, the definition of the codex by the faculty leaves the field open for other editorial and scientific formula which aim at proposing rules and principles.  After 1672 Parisian presses turned out the Pharmacopée royale by Moyse Charas, which won favor against the Collectanea pharmaceutica of Louis Penicher, commissioned by the Parisian apothecaries. Likewise, in 1697 the Pharmacopée universelle of Nicolas Lémery incarnated well this desire to overcome a strict institutional or local logic, even if with their content these works might disseminate a knowledge that remained very empirical. In the following century, in 1762, Antoine Baumé published his éléments de pharmacie théorique et pratique. It is possible to ask to what extent these chronological correspondences between these changes in London and Paris are coincidental, and to suggest that it is necessary to widen the comparison to include other capitals in order to see if these disciplinary considerations are commonplace19.

A problem of authorship ?

13But far from limiting itself to the polemical and repressive context of the 17th century, the Parisian Codex was republished three times during the 18th century, in 1732, 1748 and 1758 with different authors20. A first explanation might involve an updating of medical remedies. While the 1638 edition presented itself as a small in-quarto volume of 129 pages, that of 1758 contained 359 pages and was accompanied by a preface to the members of the Faculty of medicine and of several indexes. If the text was heavily revised, since it is now divided into three parts – preparations, Galenic compositions, chemical operations –, the mention of the Parlement’s decisions has not disappeared. On the contrary, associated with the printed text of the privilege, it maintains the Codex within the horizon of local publication by designating Parisian apothecaries as the book’s principal readers and users21. Moreover, it situates the book within a judicial genealogy, recalling the ensemble of texts on the question. On the other hand, the preface underlines the scientific dimension of accumulation and renewal of knowledge, in particular by rejecting the most « obsolete » and “ useless ” compositions22. Thus, the authors are no longer anonymous, but now learned men of recognized authority, the codex of 1732 is the work of Etienne-François Geoffroy, and in 1758, of Jean-Baptiste Boyer. The latter is presented with all his titles on the title page : knight of the Order of Saint-Michel, royal doctor, book censor, member of the Royal Society of London. The first edition has obviously an author, Philippe Hardouin, but he was much more considered as a scriptor than a real author. This attention paid to the presence of the author was not anecdotic, but sought to frame a new institutional authorship by the growth of printing publications. It seems to be a shift from the oral censorship and publication to the printing market. Local knowledge became printed knowledge and had to face a change in a new conception of authorship. Institutional authorship should be supported by an individual and expert figure. There was a tension between several regime of authorship, anonymity on one hand and singularity on the other23.

14Within this framework, the hypothesis that this rise in generality corresponds to a change in production and control over pharmacological knowledge, must be tested.  These successive editions can also be explained by the competition for control of medicines coming from diverse institutions. Alongside the Faculty, the Provost of the king’s Hotel, and after 1728 a royal commission, are charged with guaranteeing that the procedures are obeyed, by delivering from March 1731 on a patent for the fabrication and distribution of remedies.  Set up in the Louvre, this commission works in close collaboration with the lieutenant generalcy of police24. This context of competition reinforces an overall climate of institutional tension in the face of a monopoly slipping out of their grasp. The rise in generality might also signify a desire to advertise the universality and scientificity of the knowledge produced by the Faculty in contrast with the heterogeneous and contingent character of regulatory texts. In 1762, Antoine Baumé in his Elémens de Pharmacie comments thus on the work of the faculty :

A number of famous medical faculties have undertaken to transcribe the Pharmaceutical formulae, in conjunction with the Apothecaries, in order to constitute Codes, containing the compositions which all must be carried by Apothecaries, so that Doctors might be certain of the medicines which they prescribe. These Works produced for the public health, demand the greatest protection from Magistrates, to guide by the hand and insure that the compositions contained within them might be followed with the greatest exactitude25.

15One must then ask the question concerning the geographical limits of the application of such knowledge, and of their judicial mechanisms. Does the domain of Paris signify only the limits of the town and its suburbs, or does it encompass a wider region including the entire jurisdiction of the Parlement, for example ? The desire to designate these forms of knowledge with a Parisian label opposes two systems of validation of statements : the first local, invoking the necessity of prescription and the authorizations delivered by the Faculty of medicine ; the other metropolitan, aiming at making Paris an international site for learned expertise26. With prudence, one can declare that the production of a Parisian pharmocopea fulfills a double function. First of all, many kinds of knowledge stemming directly from practice are progressively formalized and increasingly fit into the format of disciplinary knowledge. These forms of knowledge, which heretofore were characterized by little institutionalization, and by a strong base within the universe of practitioners, pharmacists, progressively take shape. The attachment to the name of a city is the first step in a process of general recognition, but also – and this is the second point – in the establishment of a Parisian regulation of medical remedies.

The invention of Parisian terrain, a generalization of local scientific practices ?

16Far from being limited to a claim autochtony, Paris offered itself for other scholars as a space which it was necessary to master and survey. The urban space became the terrain for philosophical and scientific investigation. This terrain was at both physical, since it became an object for knowledge, as well as a kind of epistemological model for the new field sciences27. At the crossroads of practices and field work founded upon observation, description of the natural and social world of Paris, and of the corporeal skills which enabled the scholar to embark on these discoveries, the construction of Paris as a « terrain » for knowledge opened up on an ethical and political conception of the capital. The construction of a model can lead to claims for the intellectual primacy of Paris over other sites. Paris emerged as a fieldwork as well as an object of investigation of scientific practices. Describing different types of knowledge (for example in published works) does not necessarily conform to the same rules of expression and circulation in the two cities. For example, in the natural history or archaeology of the mid-eighteenth century, the invention of a Parisian 'terrain' can be seen more as the result of a methodological import than as the expression of a feeling of identity.

Itinerant philosophers or localized practices ? The astronomy in Paris

17At the middle of the seventeenth-century, the great “ enclosure ” of scientific activity is not yet complete, and many of scientific practices demanded mobility within the urban space28. The Parisian space is also considered as a scientific territory for measurement, geodesic practices or natural history. The abbot Jean Picard settled his astronomical instruments in the four corners of Paris before being located in the Royal observatory. Between January 1666 and july 1673, he set up his instruments near the city gate of Montmartre, but also in Passy or rue de la Poste or rue Vivienne29. As late as the eve of the French Revolution, the mathematician Montuclas recalls that surrounding the royal Observatory of Paris operated an entire fabric of private observatories, closely linked by the mobility of the erudite Lalande who was the assistant for several wealthy amateurs :

Joseph de Lisle, upon his return from Russia in 1748, established himself on the rue des Maturins, in the Hotel de Clugny, citizen de la Lalande worked with him after 1749, and citizen Messier conducted observations after 1753. Louville also conducted observations in the Luxembourg dome in Paris ; de Lisle and de La Lande also worked there. Godin and Fouchy kept their observatory on the rue des Postes, near the Estrapade. Le Monnier garnered financial support from the Noailles, a the Capucins on the rue Saint-Honoré, an observatory which was always equipped with the biggest and most expensive instruments, and he conducted there, up until 1791, a great number of important observations.  La Caille set up one at the college des Quatres-Nations, or college Mazarin.  He later was at the service of citizen Lalande. In 1776, he installed one at the college de France.  Geoffrey d’Assy, a former caissier of the receivers-general of finances, set up in his home, rue de Paradis, for La Land. […] He brought together, under remarkable circumstances, those among the members of the Academy who did not have an observatory of their own and amateurs of sciences30.

18The world of astronomy in Paris seems unified almost by chance by the mobility of Lalande.

Natural history of Paris

19During the 18th century Paris sometimes appeared as a privileged site for the observation of certain kinds of local knowledge. It is the case for example for natural history which studies the Parisian locale by intensifying the observation and inventorying of vegetal and animal life within precise geographical limits31.

20The work of Étienne -Louis Geoffroy shows in this respect the redeployment of scientific activity towards proximity. In 1762, he began to publish his work on natural history devoted to Paris and the surrounding area, with his Histoire abrégée des insectes (An Abridged History of Insects), followed in 1767 by his Traité sommaire des coquilles, tant fluviales que terrestres (A Short Treatise on River- and Land-dwelling Molluscs). While no allusion is made to the conditions of observation or collection, the geographical zone is defined as the space lying ‘five or six miles from Paris, which can be found in the course of various walks that may be taken around that city and refers to leisure activities and walks well-known to tour-guide readers and Parisians. This “ zone ” specification remains weak and impressionistic, and refers to fashionable leisure activities more than to scientific-oriented walking expeditions, as they were codified during the Revolution by Laurent Jauffret on his naturalist outings in the parc de Saint-Cloud. Jean-Jacques Rousseau during one of his numerous stays in Paris didn’t hesitate to botanize in the villages closed to Paris, in Charonne and Ménilmontant :

Le jeudi 24 octobre 1776, je suivis après dîner les boulevards jusqu'à la rue du chemin-verd par laquelle je gagnai les hauteurs de Menil-Montant, et de la, prenant les sentiers a travers les vignes et les prairies, je traversai jusqu'à Charonne le riant paysage qui sépare ces deux villages, puis je fis un détour pour revenir par les mêmes prairies en prenant un autre chemin. Je m’amusois à les parcourir avec ce plaisir et cet interest que m’ont toujours donne les sites agréables, et m’arrêtant quelque fois à fixer des plantes dans la verdure. J’en appercus deux que je voyois assez rarement autour de paris, et que je trouvai très abondantes dans ce canton-la. L’une est le Picris/hiercioides de la famille des composées, et l’autre le Bupleurum falcatum, de celle des ombellifères. Cette découverte me réjouit et m’amusa très longtems et finit par celle d’une plante encor plus rare surtout dans un pays élevé, savoir le cerastium aquaticum que, malgré l’accident qui m’arriva le même jour, j’ai retrouvé dans un livre que j’avois sur moi et place dans mon herbier32.

21With this lonely practice, we are far from the mundany practices of philosophical walk near Paris such as Marmontel could describe it founded on conversations and commensality :

Lorsque venaient les beaux jours, nous entremêlions ces dîners de promenades philosophiques en pique-nique dans les environs de Paris, sur les bords de la Seine. […] C’était le plus souvent à Saint-Cloud : nous y descendions le matin en bateau, respirant l’air de la rivière, et nous en revenions le soir à travers le bois de Boulogne. Vous croyez bien que, dans ces promenades, la conversation languissait rarement33.

22Even if fieldworks are not yet stabilized or disciplined, the “ parisian terrain ” emerged within the discourse of justification produced by Geoffroy in his preface. It is not produced by a precise localization of the collect of plants, insects, or shells. It is underlined by the reference to other references placed in the lineaus system. Geoffroy therefore didn’t forget to pay his debt and to articulate his own walks to a vast learned network by the virtue of his library.

Archeological pratices between science and defense of urban privilege

23Paris continued to be for a long time the living laboratory for botanist and mineralogist, or archeologists like Henri Sauval (1623-1676) who comments in his Histoire et recherches des antiquites de la ville de Paris, some archeological discoveries in 1651 and 165434.  But here the invention of a field is similar to an inventory of wealth.  The cult of local history is transformed into an interrogation concerning the historical foundations of the urban privileges of the capital. The antiquary’s interests are not far removed from those of the jurist and the expert on Parisian laws.  It is no surprise then that the publication of a preliminary archeologicaly reflection was the work of the lawyer in the Parlement, Henri Sauval (1623-1676). In his Histoire et recherches des antiquités de la ville de Paris, published posthumously in 1724, Sauval brings together the resources of philology, numismatics and the discoveries resulting from archeological digs.  Henry Sauval was a lawyer and the judicial milieu in Paris was strongly involved in the shaping of a reform of a new Parisian law at the end of the seventeenth century around the special commission gathered around Barthelemy Auzanet. The editor even specifies, in order to underline the originality of this approach, that Sauval

[...] drew his research as much from the charters of the Hotel de Ville, the Chambre of the Trésor des Chartes, the registers of the Parlement, as from the archives of Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle, Sainte Geneviève, the manuscripts of Saint-Victor, there were hardly any archives and cartularies, nor public or household documents, which had not been examined ; thus he has been able to provide the Period and the Proofs of all the facts which he mentions35.

24He includes in his text proof of the antiquities of the city of Paris which he collates with written sources : Caesar, Strabo, Ammianus Marcellinus, the emperor Julian.  But Sauval truly innovated in commenting the archeological discoveries of 1651 and 1654.  Thus, for example, in 1711 the learned world was fascinated by the discovery of the pillard of Nautes ; that is to say the five stone blocks discovered in the choir of Notre Dame carrying the dedication of a corporation, the Nautes, controlling river traffic, to Emperor Tiberius36. The Republic of Letters seized upon this inscription in order to develop all sorts of interpretations : Leibniz, Baudelot de Dairval as well as Dom Félibien in his Dissertation sur les antiquités celtiques in 1725 participated in this discussion. The Parisian past became an object of international speculation.  But the antiquarian and patrimonial discourse amounted to a territorial and monumental discourse. A mobile learned community hard at work offered to spread out across old Paris in order to uncover the remains of the Gallo-Roman city, the limits of the Imperium. By these example, you can see the several paths to articulate the long-distant network of the Republic of Science and the short urban networks.  The recognition of the local level depends on this articulation. Several decades after, the comte de Caylus (1692-1765) in his Recueil d’antiquités égyptiennes, étrusques, grecques et romaines published in 1756 which considered as one of the first normative codification of the French archeological practices, contained a discourse dedicated to the findings of the old Lutetia, a description of the “ rests ” :

Les anciens écrivains ne donnent point une idée fort relevée des Romains établis à Paris. On ne les croiraient point ; sur leur  témoignage, aussi puissants qu’ils doivent l’avoir été, à en juger d’après les monuments que je vais produire ? Mais c’est en rassemblant des passages épars, en méditant sur l’Histoire, en examinant les restes précieux de l’Antiquité qu’on parvient à connaître la grandeur d’un peuple, trop éloigné de Rome, pour avoir occupé les historiens, et peu connu, parce qu’il ne s’est point distingué par de grandes entreprises, ou par de grands crimes37.

25The visibility of remains past seems to substitute itself to the absence within the written sources. The greatness of Paris didn’t lay anymore on textual evidences, but is deductible from material vestiges.

26Through these three attempts to naturalise Parisian fieldworks, we can conclude that a Parisian science emerged from this first generalization of local scientific practices. Situated knowledge seems to be not enough to ground local knowledge. The recognition of the Parisian terrain depended on the international evaluation of the local concerns for a general knowledge.

Conflicts of locality and territorialization of knowledge : toward a Parisian philosophy ?

27Nevertheless, far from opposing local to global recognition, the hypothesis is finally to measure the social and cultural effect of the large social acceptance of the new philosophy on the definition of metropolitan representation itself, and was largely based on a conflictual dimension. During a long period, the qualification of “ Parisian ” indicated a very controversial knowledge judged by a pseudo-parisian tribunal. A wide range of discourses, polemics and fictions naturalise Paris as a philosophical capital by repeatedly offering representations of a Parisian space structured around sites of knowledge including great libraries and cabinets of curiosities, as well as in aristocratic sociability. The transformation of local identities defined by a customary culture according to David Garrioch’s term38, to a metropolitan culture could be based also on the capture of global and universal knowledge. The conversion of philosophy into symbolic representations does not result in a simple accumulation of sociability, local interactions and of facilities. We must therefore reinterpret the notion of hauts lieux by giving it a dynamic and conflictual dimension and to take into account the specific actions of certain networks which both participate in the territorialisation of philosophical activity in Paris as well as proclaim their membership within a universal Republic. The production of local knowledge in the capital context is largely dependant of a “ global production of locality ”39.

Policing sciences or scientifizing police?

28First, we can observe that knowledge little by little becomes “territorialized”, not only through the constitution of sites of knowledge within the urban space, but also through the multiple actions of social groups animated by often diverging interests and practices who appropriate knowledge and invest them with novel social recognition. Then, it is necessary to analyse the importance of the localisation of scientific activity within the urban space, particularly in territorial and legal terms.  The examination of all the territorial conflicts between different institutions of knowledge (schools, universities, academies, corporations) around the new philosophy in Paris underlines the importance of these debates concerning the limits and frontiers of knowledge, which are often understood as frontiers between different institutional spaces. During the 1640’s, conferences of the Bureau d’adresses created by Théophraste Renaudot are violently condemned by the Medecine Faculty. A polemic is launched by the doctors regents of the Medecine Faculty. They reproached to the Conferences to teach medical knowledge which could compete with the faculty.  The coming out of a set of libelles between 1640 and 1644 put in evidence the problem of territoriality of knowledge. If behind this affair, both historians and actors have suspected the influence of Richelieu’s creatures, we are less interested in the problem of the diffusion of knowledge within the Parisian space. The libelle Les Conclusions de la Faculté de Paris contre Renaudot  reminded us that :

[...] la Doctrine véritable et orthodoxe, que l’Escole de Paris professe et maintient inviolablement presque toute seule » courrait le risque d’être « falsifiée, depravée, et peu à peu négligée40.

29In 1643, in another pamphlet entitled Examen de la Requeste présentée à la reine par le Gazettier, the problem of policing the new places of knowledge is clearly posed :

On veut faire une nouvelle Escole et une nouvelle Académie au préjudice des Médecins de Paris et à la barbe de l’Université la plus florissante de l’Europe, on veut planter une cinquiesme Faculté41.

30The multiplication of these publications which mimed the judicial rhetoric aimed to give a visibility to the boundaries which have tended to be blurred by the creation new royal institutions such as College royal, Jardin du roi, even jesuit college which diffused philosophical or scientific knowledge. The Renaudot’s meeting are stigmatized as gathering of “Cabbalists” and “ platonicians42 ”. Moreover, we can evoke all the debates concerning teaching in the philosophical faculty  as well as the very lively debates between the University of Paris and the Jesuit college, quarrels around the experimental teaching of Jacques Rohault which involves the archbishop of Paris, Francois de Champ-vallon in 1671 or with philosophy teachers like Claude Irson, master of grammar who taught without authorization philosophy in 1670’s43. This dynamic of control emerge at the end of Old Regim in the controversy on new scientific pratices which are based on a visible display and public performance which could put some trouble in the city (magnetism, mesmerism). In 1783, the General Lieutenant didn’t hesitate to prohibit the publicity of physics or aerostatic experiences :

Il fait dire à tous les physiciens occupés à de semblables expériences (les vols de ballons) qu’ils pourraient les continuer, mais sans les afficher 44.

31By banning these practices within the public urban space, he shed on light the problem of visibility which is one the pillar of the new conception of modern police. And in the same period, knowledge are involved in a new conception of police order. The master of the enlargment of urban space, the growth of the population are regarded as important philosophical issues. On that basis, political arithmetic45, cartography of population density, moral sciences are used by government to fix new rules within the capital46.

Localism and scientific tribunal

32Beyond juridical procedures, controversies pointed out the role of Paris as a tribunal of philosophy. The designation of “ messieurs de Paris ” as an authoritative tribunal named in the correspondence of Hobbes a polemic figure rather a real place. From the 1640s to the 1780s, we find traces of the use of “ Parisian ” as a pejorative qualification within controversies. The use of tribunal’s metaphor was far from being current during the seventeenth century. This function of evaluation cropped up in the quarrel about the reception of the book of Rene Descartes, the Dioptrique between Roberval, and Fermat en 163847. In march 1638, Descartes used this expression in a letter to Mersenne :

Ie m’assure que vos Geometres, qui examinent en leur Académie tout ce qui paroist de nouveau, n’y examineront gueres ma Geométrie, faute de la pouvoir entendre48.

33And in another, he added :

[...] il y a un Conseiller de Thoulouse qui a un peu disputé contre ma Dioptrique et ma géométrie, puis quelques Geometres de Paris luy ont voulu servir de seconds ; maie me trompe fort, ou ny luy ni eux ne sçauroient se dégager de ce combat, qu’en confessant que tout ce qu’ils ont dit contre moy sont des paralogismes49.

34More a decade after, in 1654, we find the same designation in the Hobbes’ correspondence :

« Nous pourrions mesme de temps en temps vous dire quelque chose des Porismes restitués par Mr de fermat ; des nombres magiques de Mr de Pascal ; et des autres choses dont on s’entretient les samedy-apres-disné chez Mr le Pailleul en la rue St André ou nos Geometres de cette ville ont bien voulu que je me trouvasse50.

35Before the creation of the Royal Academy of Science, the idea of tribunal begun to be naturalized in Paris. In the same time, in Bejin, Jesuits used the term of mathematical tribunal to designate the group of mathematician which juged the sciences and introduced western knowledge in China51.

Making of native philosophers

36Thirdly, some episodes concerning the celebration of philosophers in Paris like the transfer of Descartes’ remains from Sweden to Paris in 1667 constitute memorable events in the urban memory of Paris which emphasized the importance of philosophy in the civic culture of the community. We can quote some extracts of the narrative produced by Adrien Baillet, the first biographer of Descartes in 1691. The activities organized following the philosopher’s death; and the literary celebration of the Cartesian rupture.  The admirers of Descartes in France initiated a movement in order to restore the remains of the philosopher in Paris. The transfer was organized by the financier Pierre d’Alibert and the French ambassador of that time, Hugues de Terlon. The transfer took place in 1666 and 1667. The corpse was placed in the Sainte Geneviève du Mont church. In 1669, the monument was erected of which Terlon had written. It consisted of semi cylindrical plates with inscriptions and the top a terracotta relief said to be made after the portrait which Queen Christina had ordered to be painted. At the banquet which followed his funeral in 1667, magistrates are in the majority: Fleury, Cordemoy and Clerselier – all lawyers at the Parlement of Paris –, and d’Ormesson, Guédreville, Habert de Montmort – all maître des requêtes and members of the French Academy –, were all in attendance.Ordinary knowledge of places like travel guides sometimes served as starting-points for local actors in order to rethink the urban space in its globality. The tombs of Descartes, and Jacques Rohault his disciple, were visited and commented by the travel guides of Paris, especially by the Description de Paris de Germain Brice in 1722. The integration in local narratives seems to be important to understand the role played by philosophical knowledge in the construction of metropolitan identity. Even if Descartes and Rohault were not born in Paris, and in the case of Descartes was an itinerant philosopher, a symbol of a philosophical nomadism, their celebration as Parisian figures embodied the necessity for a capital to absorb major national features. It underlines the difficult link of the Parisian elites to local culture at the beginning of the eighteenth century where the customary practices such as religious rituals within the parishes are more and more abandoned, and where elites sought a new representatives of the metropolitan culture. By inscribing Descartes and Rohault in Parisian customary rituals, they transformed them into native philosophers and they used their supposedly firmly established universal reputation to get a new recognition of Paris as a philosophical capital in Europe52.

37To conclude,  this paper wanted to investigate the multiple dimensions of local knowledge within the global city without any teleological perspectives. Far from opposing local and universal knowledge or understanding universality as the addition of situated knowledge, the hypothesis was that the capital framework could be useful to scrutinize the social, intellectual and cultural operations which allowed to define a metropolitan natural philosophy.  It was an attempt to discuss three assumptions of local identity of knowledge : the essentialist approach ; the culturalist approach ; the constructivist approach, otherwise to naturalise in the field of urban history of science, some actual anthropological issues. By examining several regime of production and recognition of local knowledge, we aimed to enrich the understanding of this specific knowledge by confronting a vast array of historical situations : situated knowledge, autochtony, native philosophy, ect. If it is not illegitimated to speak about Parisian philosophy between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it is because the territorialization of the modern sciences, of new philosophies  introduced new logics of belongings to the urban territory. Hence, policing knowledge is not only a matter of church censorship or absolutist control. New conditions of producing knowledge are directly linked to the making of modern metropolis.

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1 Marie Roue, “ NGO’s, indigenous peoples and local knowledge ; issues of power in the arena biodiversity ”, International Social Science Journal, vol. 55, december 2003, p. 533.
2 Sarah Franklin, “ Science as culture, cultures of science ”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 1995, 24, p. 163-184, quotation, p. 169.
3 J.-L. Amselle, “ Miroirs de la philosophie africaine ”, in Branchements. Anthropologie de l’universalité des cultures, Paris, Flammarion, 2001, p. 177-207 and B. Ouattara, « Figures ethnologiques de la pensée de l’être » ; Cahiers d’études africaines, 157, 2000, p. 79-89 ; Ali Benmakhlouf, « L’universel oblique », in A. Benmakhlouf (éd.), Routes et déroutes de l’universel, Casablanca, Le Fennec, 1997, p. 30-46 ; C. Summer (ed.), African Philosophy, Addis-Ababa, Addis-Ababa University, 1998.
4 C. Geertz, “ ‘Local knowledge’ and Its limits : Some Orbiter Dicta ”, in Available light. Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 133-140.
5  For this interpretation in urban studies, see the emblematic books of David  Harvey, The Urbanization of Capital. Studies in the History and Theory of Capitalist Urbanization, (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 1990) and Saskia Sassen, The Global city. New York, London and Tokyo (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2001).
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8 P. Petitjean et C. Jami , Science and Empire, Londres, Routledge, 1993 and F. Regourd et J. McClellan III, “ French Science and Colonization in the Ancien régime : the ‘Machine coloniale’ ”, Osiris (2000), vol. 15, p. 31-50.
9 On this new assessment of indigeneous knowledge, Kapil Raj, “ Colonial Encounters and the Forging of the New Knowledge and National Identities : Great Britain and India, 1760-1850 ”, Osiris, 2001, p. 119-134.
10 B. Latour, “ Drawing things together ”, in M. Lynch et S. Woolgar éd., Representation in scientific pratice, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1990, p. 19-68. Among a huge bibliography on universalization, Steven Shapin et Simon Schaffer, Le Léviathan et la pompe à air-Hobbes et Boyle entre science et politique, Paris, La Découverte, 1993. J. O’Connell, « Metrology : The Creation of Universality by the Circulation of Particulars », Social Studies of science, vol. 23, n° 1, fevrier 1993, p. 129-173.
11 A. Mayne, S. Lazrence, “ Ethnographies of Place : A New Urban Research Agenda ”, Urban History, déc. 2000, 24, 4, p. 550-568 and Larry Stewart, “ Other centers of calculation, or, where the Royal Society didn’t count : commerce, coffe-houses and natural philosophy in early modern London ”, British Journal of History of Science, 32, p. 133-153.
12 See our attempt, S. Van Damme, Paris, capitale philosophique de la Fronde à la Révolution (Paris, Odile Jacob, 2005).
13 This notion of “ test of greatness ” is borrowed to the Pragmatic sociology in France, see Ilan Friedrich Silber, “ Pragmatic Sociology as Cultural Sociology. Beyond Repertoire Theory ? ”, European Journal of Social Theory, 6, 4, p. 427-449. Michael Moody, Laurent Thevenot and Claudette Lafaye, “ Forms of Vakuing Nature : Arguments and justification in French and American Environmental Disputes ”, in Michele Lamont and Laurent Thevenot (eds), Comparative Cultural Sociology : Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 229-272. Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot, “ The sociology of Critical capaicity ”, European Journal of Social Theory, 1999, 2 (3), p. 359-377. Laurent Thevenot, “ Pragmatic Regimes Governing the Engagement with the World ”, in Theodore R. Stazki, Karin Knorr-Cetina and Eike von Savingy (eds), The Practical Turn, London, Routledge and Kegan paul, 2001.
14 Codex medicamentarieus seu pharmacopoea Parisiens ex mandato facultatis medicina Parisiensis in lucem edita, M. Philippo Harduino de S. Iacques Decano, Paris, Olivier de Varennes, 1638, in-4° (BNF : 4 Te 150-1).
15 L. Brockliss et C. Jones, The Medical World…, op. cit., p. 183.
16 Ibid., p. 184.
17 Ibid., p. 197.
18 A.W. Sloane, English Medecine in the Seventeenth Century, Durham, Durham Academic Press, 1996, p. 4.
19 G. Urdang, “ How Chemicals Entered the Official Pharmacopoeias ”, Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 7, 1954, p. 303-314.
20 Codex medicamentarieus seu pharmacopoea Parisiens in lucem edita, decano M. Joanne-Baptista Boyer, Paris, P.-G. Cavelier, 1758.
21 The text reminds us the royal declaration from marsh and jully 1696, royal edit of march 1707, arret of marsh 1732 which precised that “ Apothicaires de la Ville et Banlieue de Paris seront tenus de se conformer au nouveau Dispensaire fait par la Faculté de Médecine de Paris. ”
22 Codex medicamentarieus…, op. cit., p. IX.
23 M. Biagioli and P. Galison (eds), Scientific authorship. Credit and intellectual Property in Science, London, Routledge, 2003.
24 L. Brockliss and C. Jones, The Medical World of Early Modern France, Oxford, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1997, p. 628.
25 Antoine Baumé, Elémens de pharmacie théorique et pratique, Paris, Vve Damonneville et Musier fils, Didot, De Hansy, 1762, p. 4.
26 In Australia, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the same probleme is addressed, see J. Endersby, « ‘From having no Herbarium’. Local knowledge vs. Metropolitan expertise : Joseph Hooker’s Australian correspondence with William Colenso and Ronald Gunn », Pacific Science, vol. 55, No. 4, p. 343-358.
27 Henrika Kuklick and Robert E. Kohler (eds), Science in the Field, Osiris, volume 11 (Chicago University Press, 1996).
28 On cartography of Paris, see Antoine Picon et Jean-Paul Robert, Le Dessus des cartes. Un atlas parisien, Paris, Picard, 1999 et Antoine Picon, “ Nineteenth-Century Urban Cartography and the Scientific Ideal : The Case of Paris ”, Osiris, Science and the City, vol. 18, 2003, p. 135-149 and Jean Boutier, avec la collaboration de J.-Y. Sarazin et M. Sibille, Les Plans de Paris des origines (1493) à la fin du xviiie siècle, Paris, BNF, 2002.
29 Suzanne Grillot, “ Picard observateur ”, in G. Picolet (dir.), Jean Picard et les débuts de l’astronomie de précision au XVIIe siècle, Paris, CNRS, 1987, p. 35-64.
30 J.-F. Montuclas, Histoire des mathématiques, dans laquelle on rend compte de leurs progrès depuis leur origine jusqu’à nos jours…, Paris, Henri Agasse, An VII, p. 345-346.
31 About natural history in Paris, most of the works are on institutions or biography. Emma Spary, Utopia’s Garden : French Natural History from the Old Regime to Revolution, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2000.
32 J.-J. Rousseau, Les Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire, Paris, Marcel Didier, 1948, p. 19-20. On Rousseau botanist, Jean-Marc Drouin, “ Rousseau ”, in Dictionnaire culturel des sciences, op. cit., p. 368 and ID. , “ Rousseau ; Bernardin de Saint-Pierre et l’histoire naturelle ”, Dix-huitième siècle, n°33, 2001, p. 507-516.
33 J.-F. Marmontel, Mémoires de Marmontel, Paris, Mercure de France, 1998 (1ère édition 1804), livre VII, t. II, p. 239-246.
34 P. de Carbonnières, Lutèce, Paris ville romaine, Paris, Gallimard, 1997, p. 16.
35 H. Sauval, Histoire et recherches des Antiquités de la ville de Paris, Genève, Minkoff reprint, 1973 (1724), préface.
36 P. de Carbonnières, Lutèce, Paris, ville romaine, Paris, Gallimard, 1997, p. 16.
37 Ibid., p. 369-370.
38 David Garrioch,The Making of Revolutionnary Paris, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2002.
39 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large : Cultural Dimensions of Globalizations, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1997.
40 Conclusions de la Faculté de Paris contre Renaudot, p. 6.
41 Examen de la Requeste présentée à la Reine par le Gazettier, Paris, 1643, p. 17.
42 La defense de la Faculté de Medecine contre son calomniateur. Dédié à Monseigneur l’eminentissime Cardinal de Richelieu, Paris, 1641, p. 8 (BNF : T8.28), cité par S. Mazauric, Savoirs et philosophie à Paris dans la première moitié du xviie siècle, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 1997, p. 116.
43 See the analysis of Dinah Ribard, Vivre, raconter, mourir : Histoire de philosophes, Paris, Vrin-EHESS, 2003.
44 L. Petit de Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets pour servir à l’histoire de la république des lettres en France depuis 1762, Londres, J. Adamson, 1777-1789, t. XXIII, 1783, cité par G. Chabaud, “ Sciences, magie et illusion : les romans de la physique amusante (1784-1789) ”, Tapis-Franc, revue du roman populaire, 1997, n° 8, p. 18-37., p. 26. See also Simon Schaffer, “ Natural philosophy and public spectacle in the eighteenth century ”, History of Science, n° 21, 1983, p. 1-43.
45 J.-Y. Grenier, « La révision du savoir démographique », in B. Lepetit (éd.), Atlas de la Révolution française, fascicule 8, Population, Paris, 1995. C. Blum, Strength in numbers. Population, reproduction and power in Eighteenth-Century France, Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2002 and Voir la remarquable analyse d’E. Brian, La mesure de l’état. Administrateurs et géomètres au xviiisiècle, Paris, Albin Michel, 1996.
46 Vincent Milliot, “ Saisir l’espace urbain : mobilité des commissaires et contrôle des quartiers de police à Paris au xviiie siècle ”, Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 50-1, 2003, p. 54-80. Paolo Napoli, “ Police : la conceptualisation d’un modèle juridico-politique sous l’Ancien régime ”, Droits, 1994, n° 20, p. 183-196.
47 C. Goldstein, Un théorème de Fermat et ses lecteurs, Paris, Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 1995.
48 AT, 2, p. 31, 1er mars 1638.
49 AT, 2, p. 49, mars 1638.
50 Lettre du 4 aout 1654, in T. Hobbes, Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998.
51 A. Romano, “ Observer, vénérer, servir. Une polémique jésuite autour du Tribunal des mathématiques de Pékin ”, Annales HSS, juillet-août 2004, n° 4, p. 729-756.
52 On this point, S. Van Damme, Descartes. Essai d’histoire culturelle d’une grandeur philosophique, Paris, FNSP, 2002.
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Stéphane Van Damme, « How to produce local knowledge in an European Capital ? The territorialization of Science in Paris from Descartes to Rousseau », Les Dossiers du Grihl [En ligne], Les dossiers de Stéphane Van Damme, How to become a philosophical capital in Europe, mis en ligne le 27 juin 2007, consulté le 24 septembre 2021. URL :

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Stéphane Van Damme

Stéphane Van Damme est chargé de recherche au CNRS, affecté depuis 2003 à la Maison Française d’Oxford où il est responsable du programme d’histoire des sciences. à partir de septembre 2007, il sera Associate Professor in French Modern History au département d’histoire de l’université de Warwick (Grande-Bretagne). Il anime le groupe de recherche sur Savoirs et capitales européennes. Il a publié trois livres : Descartes. Essai d’histoire culturelle d’une grandeur philosophique (2002) ; Paris, capitale philosophique de la Fronde à la Révolution (2005) ; Le temple de la sagesse. Savoirs, écriture et sociabilité urbaine (Lyon, 17-18e siècles) (2005). Il vient d’éditer en collaboration avec Nicolas Offenstadt, Luc Boltanski, Elisabeth Claverie une enquête collective sur la forme affaire, Affaires, scandales et grandes causes. De Socrate à Pinochet, Paris, éditions Stock, 2007.

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