Mar 29, 2018
Epistemological Reflections in the Prize Contests of the French Academies (1720–1760)
- 16:00 to 18:00
- Premodern Conversations Series
- Martin Urman
The presentation deals with the development of the prize contests (concours
académiques) held by the French academies in the eigheenth century as media of knowledge
in the context of the Republic of Letters. The focus is especially on the rhetorical and
moral prize questions of the provincial academies between 1720 and 1760.
Research on the prize contests has so far mainly concentrated on the scientific
and technological competitions of the eighteenth century—considering them as proof of the
academies’ agenda of innovation. Yet, despite the changing functions and topics of the
concours académique, the tradition of the rhetorical prize questions remained one of
the vital pillars of the genre during the eighteenth century. Increasingly influenced by
Enlightenment discourse, the prix d’éloquence deal with the burning philosophical
issues of the epoch, above all the changing role of the arts and sciences, the
development of morals and the status of the rhetorical knowledge production as
compared to the new knowledge of the empirical sciences. What becomes evident is a
process of transformation towards topics and modes of reflection that go beyond the
traditional patterns of the genre. The famous concours of the Académie de Dijon won
by Rousseau in 1750: “Si le rétablissement des sciences et des arts a contribué à épurer
les moeurs?” is only the most prominent example of this development.
The major focus in analyzing the changing epistemic status of the concours
académique is the question to what extent the rhetorical competitions of the provincial
academies turned into a textual medium reflecting the crucial epistemic
transformations within the Republic of Letters since the seventeenth century, that is especially
the shift towards written communication and towards the serial production and
accumulation of factual knowledge.
In the rhetorical prize contests, an explicit reflection on the contrasting modes
of knowledge production emerges regarding the method of the exact sciences on the
one hand and the knowledge of the textual tradition on the other hand. What is
particularly striking, is the epistemological critique of scientific method developed by
the defenders of rhetoric in the prix d’éloquence.
MPIWG, Harnackstraße 5, 14195 Berlin, Germany
Contact and Registration
Any questions you might have about this or further sessions can be addressed to Maria Avxentevskaya.
About This Series
Premodern Conversations is a monthly seminar on pre-modern and early-modern topics, aiming to offer researchers informal space to discuss their work-in-progress. We also hope to provide a convivial meeting place where pre-modernists and early-modernists could find fruitful connections across the intellectual breadth of the MPIWG.
Our sessions usually take place in Room V005, the seminar room of the Villa, Harnackstraße 5. If you have not visited us before, the Villa is 2 minutes walk from the back entrance of the MPIWG. The seminar room is on the ground floor on the right-hand side through the glass fire door.