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Cuvier’s History of the Natural Sciences

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Georges Cuvier

2. Scientific Impact of Isaac Newton & Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

2. Observation and Experimentation, the Contributions of Isaac Newton

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Image

Portrait of Isaac Newton. Oil on canvas (1702) by Godfrey Kneller. Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery.

Messieurs,

In the previous session, after an overview of the major discoveries marking the seventeenth century, I presented the favorable drivers of observations, which were as important, or at least multiplied, in the eighteenth century. These observations form the body of useful sciences we have today. Now, I would like to present the history of these various observations and their relationships and connections.

This history is divided into two clearly distinct periods. During the first period, naturalists, chemists, and physiologists simply pursued the process followed in the seventeenth century. In a way, natural history was only a secondary subject of study, a fragment of general physics. Methods, classifications, and nomenclatures were not considered as important as they are today. Cartesian hypotheses1 continued to dominate the part of natural history closest to physics,...

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