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Home > Seminars > Seminar Disc of the PhDs Students of SPHere

Axis interdisciplinarity in History & Philosophy of Science

Seminar Disc of the PhDs Students of SPHere

Organizers : (Elena Danieli, Paul-Emmanuel Timotei, Flora Vachon, Jimmy Degroote) (ED 623–Université Paris Cité, SPHere)

Thanks to Arilès Remaki, Edgar Lejeune, Justin Gabriel, Marie Lacomme and Sara Hijmans for having successfully organized the seminar in previous years.

The DISc seminar is a monthly meeting designed by and for the SPHere’s PhD students to meet their scientific needs. The seminar aims to be a space for discussion and exchange in the history, philosophy, epistemology and sociology of science among young researchers. Each session revolves around a theme that relates to the work of three or more of SPHere’s PhD students, to create a space for interdisciplinary thinking. The goal of the DISc seminar is to be the occasion for refining methodological tools and for sharing the advancements of the participants’ research with their colleagues.

Students enrolled in the Master d’histoire et philosophie des sciences of the Université Paris Cité can validate their presence at the DISc seminar.

To attend the seminar, online or in person, please contact the organisers who will be happy to welcome you!

2018–2019, 2019–2020,
2020–2021, 2021–2022

PROGRAM 2023 - 2024

The seminar will take place from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm in room 628 of the Olympes de Gouges building - Université Paris Cité, 8 rue Albert Einstein, except for the sessions on January 18, 2024 and May 30, 2024, which will take place in room 566 of the Olympes de Gouges building.

  • Thursday, 21st September 2023
    Thesis presentation

    Clément BONVOISIN (SPHere, Université Paris Cité) - Go down in history? How Magnus Hestenes became part of historical narratives on Pontryagin’s maximum principle (1948 – 1961)
    In a paper published in 2009 in the scientific journal Control and Cybernetics, historian of mathematics Michael Plail and mathematician Hans-Josef Pesch summed up the history of Pontryagin’s maximum principle. This important result in nowadays optimisation (the search of best solutions to given problems) had been derived by a group of Soviet mathematicians gathered by Lev Pontryagin (1908 – 1988), in a series of works they published from 1955 to 1961. However, Plail and Pesch’s account of the history of Pontryagin’s maximum principle also mentions the research carried in the United States as early as 1950, by a mathematician called Magnus Hestenes (1906 – 1991). Back then, the latter was working for a think tank funded by the U.S. Army Air Forces called the RAND Corporation. There, he produced a couple of research memoranda that have hardly been distributed outside of the think tank.Commenting on one of these memoranda, the authors of the historical paper note that prior to the works of Pontryagin’s group, Hestenes had writtenan equation that was “a first formulation of a maximum principle.”This comment shows that from Plail and Pesch’s perpsective, Magnus Hestenes is a precursor in the history of Pontryagin’s maximum principle. As it happens, some scientists made similar claims before Plail and Pesch did. In this talk, I wish to question how scientists shape historical narratives and identify precursors, by describing how Magnus Hestenes came to be seen as such. Whofirst likenedPontryagin’s maximum principle to the equation written by Hestenes? How did they know of Hestenes’ work in spite of its poor distribution? In likening it to the maximum principle, how did they change its initial meaning?

    Jimmy Degroote (SPHere, Université Paris Cité) - How do you write the history of a philosophical abstraction?
    Even today, the history of philosophy is the main way of teaching and doing philosophy in France, at least on an academic level. As you may be aware, this contrasts with university practice in other Western countries, which is more concerned with the logical analysis of concepts and the scrupulous evaluation of the argumentative requirements. Although much has been written in the past about this difference in style between a philosophy ’à la française’, still called ’continental’, and an Anglo-Saxon philosophy - to the point, perhaps, of appearing a little hackneyed here - it is a reminder that the genetic apprehension of philosophical texts and theories is far from presenting the characteristics of obviousness and necessity that we often attribute to it. The historical method is not self-evident. One difficulty in particular needs our attention: if it is true that philosophy deals mainly with abstractions such as concepts and problems, how can we make the history of such objects? Here, it is not a question of putting a piece back into the jukebox of realism and constructivism (are we dealing with ideal invariants that are independent of the contexts in which they are instantiated, or with human representations that are themselves subject to change and contingency?), but rather to question the catch that the historical method can effectively exert on ’things’ that are not things in the ordinary sense of the term, but are content to find in matter a medium of expression or to leave evasive traces. So can we really do a history of abstractions? We would like to study the difficulties associated with this question in the case of the problem of the applicability of mathematics, the origin of which several historians (such as Marco Panza) situate in the Pythagoreanism of Antiquity, while several philosophers (such as Mark Steiner) do not hesitate to maintain that it was not until the end of the 1990s that it clearly emerged. After briefly reviewing the reasons behind these contradictory judgements, we would like above all to explore the methodological difficulties underlying their expression: can we identify an ’ancient’ and a ’contemporary’ problem on the pretext that they find similar formulations? Moreover, how can the similarity of these formulations be established beyond the differences in language and epistemological context? Is it even possible to determine the date at which a problem appears in history? Our aim is to contribute to the debates on the ’age’ of the problem of applicability, using a conceptual approach that is aware of the preceding difficulties.

    Simon GENTIL (SPHere, Université Paris Cité) - Can we define what are curves ?
    What is a curve? At first sight, this question may seem naïve, reflecting a lack of knowledge of a primary mathematical object. However, if the idea of a curve is relatively intuitive, the desire for a mathematical discourse integrating this notion imposes the need for a rigorous definition of what a curve is. However, it appears that the concept of a curve as such does not have a fully satisfactory definition. The aim of this paper is to examine different definitions of a subclass of curves, whether current (algebraic curves, topological curves, etc.) or historical (geometric curves, interscendental curves, etc.), and to use examples to highlight the conflicts between the intuitive idea of what curves are and the rigorous definitions that can be proposed. The philosophical reflections proposed during this presentation will also be enriched by historical remarks. In particular, although the idea of a curved line has existed since antiquity, it would appear that the notion of a curve ’in general’ was not constructed until the early modern period and the introduction of an algebraic method in geometry, which on the one hand makes it possible to think of the curve in general and on the other hand makes it impossible to define such a notion. While this last observation may seem problematic, it also seems to us that it can be seen as a driving force in mathematical research, in particular by proposing counter-examples that encourage us to rethink established definitions. The presentation that we are proposing does not claim to be able to define what a curve is, but aims to suggest ways of thinking about the possibility of defining such an intuitive object in all its generality.

  • Thursday, 12th October 2023
    Presentation of new doctoral students’ work

    Matteo Camerini - "An infinite question. The Problem of the Actual Infinity in Crescas, Spinoza and Cantor. Some historical-philosophical notes"
    Clément Cartier - "Medieval instruments computing eclipses"
    Elisa Dalgalarrondo - "Make a history of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles de Sèvres (1936-1985) : how to use testimonials from former students"
    Natacha Demoule - "History of the term relativism: how to bring to light past debates on relativism?"
    Haolin Wang - "Study on Bhairava’s commentary on the Līlāvatī of Bhāskara II"

  • Thursday, 23rd November 2023
    Images, signs, textual representations

    Image and text are two categories whose distinction is rarely questioned in the practice of historians, particularly historians of science. This distinction is very often already explicit in the sources, however varied they may be. Images are separated from text by more or less strict layout standards.
    But this separation into two autonomous semiotic regimes has its limits. Texts are very often constituent elements of images, particularly in scientific sources. Understanding an image is the result of a highly complex interaction between the texts that are integrated into it, the external text that refers to it and the other elements of the image. Furthermore, non-textual representation practices are extremely varied and cannot be approached by a general method that would apply to all of them. For example, the numeric table or the logical dia- gram are not the products of the same kind of iconographic practice as engraving, which in- corporates the rules of perspective and shading.
    This complexity and diversity are particularly evident in the scientific context, where dis- course and representations are generally designed to serve a rational, unambiguous and universal message. Moreover, the scientific context also implies certain modes of discourse, some demonstrative, some didactic, some heuristic. The modal approach is therefore also a major challenge for the field of iconography, calling for the development of new tools for the critical analysis of these modes.
    In both writing and reading, the use of images takes us into a perceptive and phenomeno- logical universe that transforms the textual object into a material artefact that questions our interactions with the products of writing.

    Nicolas Millot (IHPST, Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne)
    Defining mathematical diagrams: philosophical and cognitive issues
    The importance of diagrams in the history of mathematics has long been recognized by practitioners and historians of mathematics. However, it is only in recent decades that a philosophical reappraisal of the role of dia- grammatical thinking for mathematical thinking has taken place. This reappraisal has several di- mensions (this is not a disciplinary split, so these dimensions are in constant interaction):
    - a historical dimension, whose general function is to specify the different types of use of diagrams in the history of mathematics. This approach is particularly well exemplified by the large series of studies on the role of diagrams in Euclid’s geome- try, see, for example Manders, (2008), Netz (2003), Panza (2012), Saito (2012).
    - a philosophical dimension, whose general function is to define the general type of object considered as a diagram. There are two aspects to this type of research: on the one hand, the aim is to specify the set of general constraints (perceptual, conceptual) that define a diagram; on the other, the aim is to specify the distinctive characteristics of mathematical diagrams in relation to other diagrams. characteristics of mathematical diagrams in relation to other diagram types. One explicit pro-explicit position in this direction is that of Giardino (2023).
    - a cognitive dimension, whose general function is to give precise content to the perceptual constraints and cognitive processes that define diagrams and underpin their use, see for example Wagemans (2014).
    The aim of this presentation is to outline some of the epistemological problems posed by inter-actions between these three dimensions. In particular, we will focus on the problems of defining the (informational/physical) format of a diagrammatic object and the (cognitive/historical) basis of diagrammatic cognition.

    Elena Danieli (OFFISS — Università di Bologna ; SPHere — Université Paris Cité)
    Obstetrical images as portraits of a changing art. How the anatomical plates of 18th-century midwifery manuals reveal new bodies and new didactics of a new science.
    The plates published in the French obstetrical manuals of the end of the 18th century show the bone structures of pelvises, the positioning of foetuses and the manoeuvres to facilitate their descent into the vaginal canal. However, a closer look at them reveals how they also illustrate the evolution of the art of midwifery in a period of radical changes in the procedures, the places and the styles in which the art of childbirth was practised. In this talk, the visual apparatus of the obstetrical texts will be considered as an unusual access point to analyse the development of midwifery didactics, the innovation of the methods by which its principles were taught, and the differences in the training of obstetricians and midwives. From rare instances in the manuals to accurate anatomical representations which are actual works of art, these obstetrical images portray the gradual reconfiguration of medical thinking around pregnant bodies and depict graphically the renegotiation of women’s role in society as mothers and as professionals at the turn of the century.

    Delphine Bourgouin (Sorbonne Université - UFR d’Histoire de l’Art – Université Paris-Sorbonne - Paris IV)
    Les polyèdres dans les traités mathématiques et dans les arts de la Renaissance italienne
    Already, in some manuscripts of Euclid’s Elements, dating from the 12th to 14th centuries, polyhedra represented in perspective were inserted throughout the text. There are numerous examples of this: Ms. Vat. Lat. 7299 and Ms. Ross. 579 in the Vatican Apostolic Library, Plut. 28.2 and Plut. 28.6 in the Laurentian Library. But it was really from the very end of the 15th century, notably with the writings of the mathematicians Luca Pacioli and Piero della Francesca - also a renowned painter - that the polyhedron became a widespread image in scientific works. This talk will focus on four Italian works from the 15th and 16th centuries:
    - Piero della Francesca’s Libellus de quinque corporibus regularibus, written between 1480 and 1492;
    - Luca Pacioli’s Divina proportione - both manuscripts date from 1498, while the first edition was printed in 1509;
    - La Pratica della perspectiva by Daniele Barbaro, printed in 1568;
    - Lorenzo Sirigatti’s La Pratica delle prospettiva in the 1596 editio princeps and its three-year earlier manuscript version.
    In each of these works, the representations of geometric solids will be studied in terms of both their mathematical accuracy and their pictorial technique. The link, more or less close, with the text of the treatise will also be questioned.
    Secondly, we’ll look at how the model of the polyhedron circulated between the scientific and artistic spheres during the Renaissance: Plato’s solids and their derivatives were widely represented by artists during this period, both as two-dimensional projections in a variety of media - marquetry, painting, engraving, etc. - and as three-dimensional objects for a variety of uses - sundials, lanterns, inkwells, etc. - in a variety of media. - as three-dimensional objects for a variety of uses - sundials, lanterns, inkwells, etc.
    Finally, a particular type of portrait will be studied: that of the scholar or philosopher, accompanied by one or more polyhedra. Jacopo de’ Barbari’s Portrait of Luca Pacioli (1495) is certainly the most complex example.

  • Thursday, 14th December 2023

    Simon Gentil
    Practices of translators/translations
    In this presentation, we will look back at some of the issues involved in the translation process. First, we will distinguish between several radically different translation contexts, and see how these contexts give rise to equally distinct issues. For the purposes of this talk, we will restrict ourselves to
    the institutional context and the translation methods adopted by "large-scale" translation organizations, by presenting the collective work "Traduire, Transposer, Naturaliser", which looks back at the movement to translate Western science outside Europe in the 19th century.

    Clément Bonvoisin
    Organisation(s) of translations of research work in the United States during the early Cold War
    During World War II and the Cold War, the technoscientific competition entailed scientists and engineers in the United States to keep track of the research carried out in other countries. This was especially the case in some strategic fields of science in which the United States did not have a dominant position. However, this implied accessing works carried out in countries where science was not written in English. This raises the main question that I intend to address in this talk: how did scientists organise the necessary translation work they had to do, in order to appropriate knowledge elaborated in foreign languages? I will discuss this matter by looking at a variety of ways in which translation work was organised in the United States during the early Cold War.

  • Thursday, 18th January 2024
    Questioning the epistemology and history of ancient medicine

    Théophile RICHARD
    Do the theoretical entities of our theories exist in the same way as everyday objects? ?
    The aim of this presentation is to raise the question of the type of existence that should be recognized for entities, or mechanisms, postulated by abstract theories. Based on Vuillemin’s discussion of Duhem’s and Quine’s positions, we would like to show that the notion of existence, or explanation, required by our theories is linked to the notion of scale, and therefore does not have an absolute meaning.

  • Wednesday, 14th February 2024 Room 569 Olympe de Gouges building Université Paris Cité


    Gautier Depambour
    Title : How do you approach a controversy in the history of science? The case of the priority dispute between Roy Glauber and George Sudarshan

    Arilès Rémaki
    Title : Bertrand Academy: a paradise for those who are terrible at maths
    Abstract :
    This provocative title is intended to highlight the fact that the symbolic violence of the mathematical discipline is nothing new, and this presentation will explore the case of one of its potential first victims: Bertrand de la Coste. In 1671, Bertrand de la Coste, a former artilleryman for the Electorate of Hamburg, presented the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris with a machine capable of producing perpetual motion. The staff at the Académie didn’t take him seriously, and he was rejected before he could get the audience with the king he had hoped for. Bertrand de la Coste harbored great resentment over this episode, which he considered the worst humiliation of his life. He published a series of five satirical opuscules aimed at criticizing the Académie Royale des Sciences. These documents allow us to reflect on the place of mathematics among amateurs at the time, and the epistemological consequences of the establishment of an official science through the Académie de Paris.

Thursday, 21st March 2024
Biography / prosopography and the practice of history by scientists

  • Yang Liqiong
    The Relationship Between Environment and Disease in Ancient Greek and Chinese Medicines: A Comparative Study Between the Hippocratic Corpus and the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon
    The Hippocratic Corpus and the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon are classical works respectively associated with ancient Greek and Chinese medicine, each addressing the question of the relationship between the human body and the universe (microcosm/macrocosm). In the 1930s, the renowned Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, Fan Xingzhun, proposed the idea, based on textual comparisons, that the theories of the "Five Movements and Six Qi" (五运六气, wu yun liu Qi) in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon were influenced by the Hippocratic Corpus. What particularly interests us is to determine whether the crucial theories regarding environment and disease in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon were impacted by the Hippocratic Corpus. This leads us to pose two fundamental questions: what methodology underlies the comparison between ancient Greek and Chinese medicine? What are the similarities and differences between the Hippocratic Corpus and the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, with a particular focus on the relationship between environment and disease? Drawing on the original canon and taking into account the nuances of inherent differences in each classical work, the relationship between environment and disease can be analyzed from several key areas: the impact of places on disease, the influence of the rhythm of time on the body, the connections between water and disease, the effects of winds on disease, and finally, the correlation between nomos (customs/laws) and physis. In conclusion, although there are similarities between the theory of "Five Movements and Six Qi" (五运六气, wu yun liu Qi) in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon and the notion concerning environment and disease in the Hippocratic Corpus, there is no evidence to suggest direct influence.

  • Yuan Rui, Chou ren zhuan 疇人傳
    The First Compilation of the Biographies for Mathematicians and Astronomers and the First Historical Work of Mathematics in China.
    "Chou ren zhuan" (疇人傳), the first compilation of mathematicians’ and astronomers’ biographies in China, was published during the Jiaqing (嘉慶) reign of the Qing Dynasty. It was orchestrated and edited by the prominent government official Ruan Yuan (阮元) (1764 – 1849), with mathematician Li Rui (李銳) (1769-1817) as the primary author. Numerous scholars proficient in mathematics collaborated on its editing and completion. Upon its publication, the compilation garnered considerable attention, prompting subsequent supplements and expansions. This pioneering effort not only documents the lives and achievements of ancient mathematicians and astronomers but also underscores their profound contributions to the evolution of mathematics and astronomy in ancient China. This report provides an overview of the work, encompassing its authorship, content, and historical significance, and inviting further discussion and exploration into it.

  • Odile Chatirichvili
    "A most awkward literary genre": literary perspectives on scientists’ autobiographies
    The autobiographies of scholars and scientists are far from unexplored material. The life stories of scientists constitute a subject of study at the intersection of several disciplines—especially in history, sociology, and philosophy of science, where they serve as both sources and tools. Considering these methodological challenges inherent in the humanities, where to locate the possible actions and contributions of a literary approach working on texts, as "social facts" but also as discursive, literary, or even poetic objects? In this presentation, I propose to present my doctoral research in comparative literature, based on certain pages of the introduction to my thesis Narratives of Science, Narratives of Self – A Comparative Study of Five Autobiographies of Mathematicians from the 20th Century to the Present (Frenkel, Grothendieck, Halmos, Roubaud, Schwartz) defended in 2022 at the Université Grenoble Alpes.
    Bio-bibliography: Odile Chatirichvili, a French teacher in a high school in Tarn-et-Garonne, holds a doctorate in comparative literature from the Université Grenoble Alpes and is a former student of the ENS Ulm. She works on the relationships between literature and sciences, especially mathematics, on the forms of life narrative, as well as on various aspects of textual materiality (text/image links, layout, editing).

    Selected publications:
    • "Autobiographical Poetics of Mathematical Eureka (Schwartz, Grothendieck, Villani, Roubaud)" in Pierre-Michel Menger and Pierre Verschueren (eds.), The World of Mathematics, Editions du Seuil, 2023.
    • "Mathematics, Home, and Grenzen" in Beatrice Barbalato (ed.), Autobiography: A Matter of Geometry?, Mnemosyne, o la costruzione del senso, no. 16, Presses universitaires de Louvain, 2023, pp. 33-47.
    • "Formulating Life: Between Writing and Image, the Device of Mathematical Formulas in Self-Narrative" in Narratives in Images of Self: Devices, Le Conférencier-Textimage, spring 2020, online:

      Odile Chatirichvili offers to read a portion of the introduction of her thesis for Francophones and an article in English for non-Francophones.

  • Thursday, 18th April 2024
    Session dedicated to Master’s students

  • Thursday, 30th May 2024
    Teaching history as a historiographical source
    Thomas Berthod (SPHERE, UPCité) : Introduction
    Maya Raulot-Dinh (CHCSC - EST, Université Paris-Saclay) : The textbook, a source for understanding secondary physics teaching
    Abstract :
    Used by both teachers and students, the textbook as a medium for knowledge and methods, contributes to the acquisition of a scientific culture. At the crossroads of multiple injunctions - scientific, institu- tional and editorial - this pedagogical tool appears to be a rich source in the history of subjects teaching, functioning as an indicator of evo- lutions and continuities in several spheres. Although work has been carried out on physics in secondary education, it has mainly focused on an institutional approach, with little study of the precise content of teaching. This presentation aims at exploring the teaching of an elec- tricity lesson on Ohm’s law by making use of a micro-corpus of text- books (1910’s-1930’s). We will question the aims of science teaching as proposed by the 1902 reform of boys’ education and the 1897 pro- grams for girls’ education. This micro-corpus will be designed as a test-sample in an attempt to produce - in part - a global analysis grid that can eventually be applied to a substantial corpus of textbooks co- vering the 20th century.

    Agathe Rolland (LDAR, UPCité - LinX, Ecole Polytechnique) : Finding a group in a haystack
    Abstract :
    Group theory is a branch of abstract algebra which has been included in the program for the agrégation de mathématiques, one of the French exams to become a mathematics teacher in secondary school, in 1957. Although a cornerstone of French mathematics education, very little research has yet been conducted on the content of this exam. This presentation will explore the position occupied by group theory, in relation to other mathematical content, in jury reports bet- ween 1950 and 1990. The aim will be to grasp what kind of know- ledge the jury expected from future teachers, regarding a theory dee- med abstract and difficult by university students.

    Elisa Dalgalarrondo (SPHERE, Cité du Genre, UPCité) : Taking the entrance exa- mination to get access to the mathematics division of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles de Sèvres (1953-1959)
    Until 1985, the French institution Ecole Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles de Sèvres offered a higher education training in mathematics for women who had passed the entrance examination. Each year during the 1950s, a few dozens of "young women" passed a very selective examination to enter this school and get access to a demanding training in mathematics. In this talk, I aim at questionning the processes of selection to enter higher education institutions as a way to understand the mathematical environment proposed in such a school. Who were the students selected by this exam? What did the students who didn’t pass it become? What were the requirements for these students? How were these exams organized? By focusing on jury reports, application files and examination subjects from 1953 to 1959, I intend to explore those questions.

    Clément Cartier (SPHERE - UPCité) : The Education of a 14th century Abbot: Ri- chard from Wallingford to Saint Albans (1292—1327)
    Richard of Wallingford was born probably in 1292. Orphan at the age of 10, he was sent to Oxford by William of Kirkeby in 1309. He stu- died there untill 1327, with a small interruption between 1315 and 1318 when he was ordered priest in St Albans Abbey. After 15 years spent in the university, he finally became Abbot for this same Abbey, where he built an impressive clock that made his name for the follo- wing generations. How did his training prepare him to become the Ab- bot and clockmaker he was known to be? What did he learn in Ox- ford? What did he learn before that? How did he study? Armed with the limited sources available, let us try to follow the path of this blacksmith’s son, from his birth in Wallingford to his stays in Oxford, to shed light on how he came to build instruments and to write trea- tises about them, and to think about the historiography of education in ancient times.

  • 6th to 7th June 2024

PROGRAM 2022-2023

on Wednesday, once a month, 3pm - 7pm, Room Klein 371A, Condorcet Building, 4, rue Elsa Morante, until January, then Room 628, Building Olympe de Gouges, place Paul Ricœur, Université Paris Cité, 75013 Paris

Date Topics
September 14, 2022 Objectivity
October 12 Presentation of new PhDs Students
November 16 Instrumentation
November 29 Varia
January 11 2023 Write and Publish, thanks to the computer
February 15 Laboratory and places of science
March 16 Works on thesis
April 26 The biographic records
May 17 tba
June 7 Authority

September 14, 2022

  • Jimmy Degroote (ED 623–Université Paris Cité, SPHere, & Erc Philiumm)
    Scientifiques et Sciences se réclament de l’objectivité. Que les champs disciplinaires relèvent des sciences de l’abstraction comme les mathématiques, des sciences expérimentales comme la physique, des sciences du vivant comme la biologie ou la médecine, ou encore, des sciences humaines et sociales telle que l’histoire ou la sociologie. Toutes ces disciplines tendent à l’objectivité comme si cette dernière était une modalité une peu plus parfaite -bien qu’humaine- de prétendre à l’universel. Comme si l’objectivité était intrinsèque à la science elle-même. Mais qu’appelle-t-on l’Objectivité ? Existe-t-il une essence de celle-ci ? Une théorisation consensuelle de la notion ? Est-elle même un concept ? Un ensemble homogène de pratiques ? Peut-on délimiter le champ, la finalité et les moyens de l’objectivité en science ? L’objectivité est-elle la même quel que soit le champ disciplinaire ? Y-a-t-il une seule objectivité ? Des types d’« objectivités » ? Encore : Pourquoi l’objectivité ? Ou : depuis quand l’objectivité ? Peut-on dater cette ambition scientifique de l’objectivité ? Quid « d’avant l’objectivité » ?
    Tout ceci correspond au questionnement qui a guidé le travail de Lorraine DASTON et de Peter GALISON dans leur ouvrage « Objectivity » (2012 pour la traduction française - 2007 pour la version anglaise). Les thèses auxquelles ils aboutissent ne manquent ni d’originalité ni d’impertinence ; un cadre éthique pour penser les pratiques scientifiques. Cette première partie de séance sera d’une part l’occasion de présenter un ouvrage tout à fait original qui se situe entre science, histoire, éthique et art. Elle laissera d’autre part la place à une discussion collective qui, je l’espère, contribuera à enrichir ce processus laborieux de fructification attendue d’un travail de thèse. La présentation de l’ouvrage sera donc replacée dans le contexte de son étude ; une proposition de mise en pratique du partenariat de recherche au sein des laboratoires en sciences bio-médicale et clinique.
    Cet exposé sera également l’occasion d’interroger les limites de la pratique historique. À trop ramener l’objectivité à son histoire, on court parfois le risque de nier sa valeur épistémique. Un peu comme si l’étude des conditions particulières d’émergence de l’exigence d’objectivité dans le champ scientifique frappait d’illégitimité la possibilité même d’une vérité objective. Plusieurs philosophes et historiens des sciences sont allés dans ce sens : FOUCAULT a cru voir dans l’objectivité l’expression d’un pouvoir avide de domination, FEYERABEND a soutenu qu’il fallait faire nos adieux à la raison. Plus proches de nous, RORTY et LATOUR ont défendu la réductibilité des normes scientifiques à la pratique humaine et à des constructions sociales. Malgré leur grande variété, les différents dispositifs conceptuels où s’exprime ce soupçon reposent tous sur un argument commun: pour voir les processus dans leur vérité, il faut revenir à leurs origines. Mais la vérité qui se dévoile ainsi à nous est toujours crue : loin des idéalisations dont elle retrace patiemment les réseaux d’engendrement, l’étude historique assume une fonction démystificatrice. Elle nous enjoint à cesser d’être dupes.
    Mais qu’est-ce que se défier de la valeur d’objectivité, sinon poursuivre une exigence de véracité ? Dans Vérité et véracité, Bernard WILLIAMS propose de lever cette contradiction qui travaille de l’intérieur l’argumentation des « négateurs » d’objectivité. La force du propos de WILLIAMS tient à sa méthode : contrairement aux défenses rationalistes traditionnelles de la vérité, il n’est pas question d’étudier le concept a priori mais le devenir de celui-ci. Il s’agit donc de se situer à l’intérieur de l’histoire, sur le terrain privilégié de ses adversaires, pour mieux se saisir de leurs arguments et les retourner contre eux. WILLIAMS propose ainsi une véritable généalogie de la vérité le conduisant à sa réhabilitation comme valeur garante de l’objectivité scientifique. La deuxième partie de la séance s’attachera à présenter les enjeux et les principales conclusions de son travail afin de les soumettre à la discussion.
    Une séance en deux temps autour d’une même notion. Deux ouvrages écrits à peu près dans les mêmes années ; des thèses qui ne se ressemblent pas mais qui interrogent les conditions épistémologiques de la pratique scientifique. Les débats contemporains d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences seront le coeur de cette première séance du Séminaire Doctoral DISC 2022-2023.

October 12, 2022

The DISc seminar proposes, as a second session, to offer new doctoral students from the SPHere laboratory the opportunity to present their projects. As this seminar is designed as a collaborative space for young researchers in the laboratory, this session will give newcomers the opportunity to present their questions, their difficulties so that they echo the questions and difficulties of other doctoral students and give rise to common interests to foster future collaborations!

  • 3:25pm - 4:05pm Tiphaine Lours
    Histoire de la greffe au XIXe siècle
  • 4:10pm - 4:40pm Roman Perez
    Réflexion philosophique sur la nécessité en logique
  • 5:20pm - 5:50pm Thomas Berthod
    Borel, Baire, Lebesgue et l’intuitionnisme
  • 5:55pm - 6:25pm Elena Danieli
    Réforme de la médecine pendant la Révolution Française
  • 6:30pm - 7pm Théophile Richard
    La Philosophie de Jules Vuillemin

November 12

  • Flora Vachon
    Configurations instrumentales des espaces de production de l’ADN ancien, l’histoire d’un patchwork disciplinaire
    En s’appuyant sur la notion «d’objet intermédiaire» de Dominique Vinck (1999), cette présentation tentera de montrer comment une analyse des instruments de laboratoire permet de penser les configurations des liens de coopération dans la production d’un objet particulier : l’ADN ancien. L’histoire de l’instrumentation des espaces clés de production de l’ADN ancien amène à définir les associations des acteurs/actants impliqués. Par prolongement, cette mise en évidence des relations instrumentales prenant part à cette production devrait nous amener à qualifier la paléogénétique – dont l’objet est l’ADN ancien – en tant que transdiscipline.
  • Gautier Depambour
    L’histoire du laser : un exemple emblématique du fonctionnement de la recherche aux Etats-Unis dans les années 1950-1960
    L’invention du laser constitue une rupture dans l’histoire de l’optique car elle marque l’apparition d’une source de lumière radicalement nouvelle, à la fois très monochromatique et très directionnelle. D’un point de vue contextuel, l’apparition du laser est aussi un bel exemple pour comprendre comment fonctionne la recherche aux Etats-Unis dans les années 1950-1960, et en particulier le rôle des agences militaires dans les financements. Certaines versions de l’histoire du laser se focalisent plutôt sur les aspects théoriques et techniques ; d’autres privilégient les aspects économiques et sociologiques. Je tâcherai de présenter quatre d’entre elles, que je vous proposerai ensuite de discuter et de comparer collectivement.
  • Clément Bonvoisin
    Une équation n’est-elle qu’une équation ? Instruments de calcul et statut des équations dans une note de recherche de Magnus Hestenes (1950)
    De 1956 à 1961, un groupe de mathématiciens soviétiques gravitant autour de Lev Pontryagin (1908 – 1988) publie une série de textes sur les problèmes de contrôle optimal. Ces problèmes, apparus durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale au sein de communautés scientifiques de pays belligérants, consistent à trouver les meilleures manières d’amener un système de son état initial à un état désiré. Les textes du groupe soviétique proposaient un outil pour résoudre ces problèmes, qu’ils nomment principe du maximum. L’historiographie a tôt fait d’identifier des précurseurs à cet outil. Ainsi, Magnus Hestenes (1906 – 1991) fut crédité d’avoir formulé le principe du maximum dès 1950. En cause : des similitudes mathématiques entre le principe du maximum et une équation écrite par Hestenes dans une note de recherche pour un think tank lié à l’armée états-unienne. Je propose de discuter ce rapprochement en resituant la note de Hestenes dans le projet auquel il participait : calculer une approximation des plans de vol optimaux d’un avion de chasse grâce à un ordinateur. Dès lors, quel statut cet instrument de calcul donne-t-il à l’équation écrite par Hestenes ? En quoi ce statut diffère-t-il de celui donné, six ans plus tard, au principe du maximum ?

November 29

  • Marie Lacomme
    Un nom de champ peut-il fédérer une communauté ?
    Dans les récits que les primatologues font de l’histoire de leur domaine, on retrouve presque invariablement l’idée que le mot « primatologie » est inventé au début des années 1940 par T.C. Ruch pour intituler sa bibliographie scientifique sur les primates. Pourtant, le terme apparaît dans au moins deux sources de la fin du XIXe siècle : dès 1874, dans un article du laryngologue américain Louis Elsberg, puis en 1897, dans un article de Raffaele Schiattarella, professeur de droit à Palerme. Il s’agira donc d’abord de comprendre comment cette proposition a pu émerger dans deux contextes a priori assez lointains et pourquoi elle n’a pas été retenue à cette époque.
    L’enjeu de cette étude ne se limitera pas à la recherche de la première occurrence d’un mot. En effet, l’objectif sera surtout de mieux comprendre l’émergence et la constitution de la primatologie comme champ, et l’importance qu’a pu avoir dans ce processus le nom « primatologie » comme bannière sous laquelle un groupe de chercheurs et chercheuses ont pu se rassembler.
    Pour cela, sera également exploré un ensemble de sources issu de vifs débats engendrés par la création de l’American Journal of Primatology en 1981, un siècle après les propositions d’Elsberg et Schiatarella. Face à Allan M. Schrier qui affirmait ne pas se reconnaître sous une telle appellation et mettait en question l’existence d’une primatologie unifiée et de primatologues, qu’il qualifiait de « créatures mythiques » ; plusieurs de ses collègues réagissaient vivement en revendiquant cette étiquette et clamaient leur existence en tant que primatologues.
  • Simon Gentil
    Écrire l’histoire/philosophie des mathématiques, quels compromis pour quelles ambitions ?
    La recherche en histoire et/ou philosophie des mathématiques, et plus généralement des sciences, nécessite d’écrire des réflexions sur des objets scientifiques avec une approche extérieure à la science habituelle. L’article qui soutient cette réflexion se veut être une présentation philosophique des objets et pratiques mathématiques de textes de la fin du 17e siècle dans lesquels la frontière entre ces deux disciplines n’est pas clairement établie. Une analyse de ces textes, et surtout la restitution de cette analyse, nécessite de faire des compromis; négliger une part des objets étudiés pour en privilégier la philosophie et limiter la philosophie sous-jacente à leurs considérations/manipulations pour laisser une place à leur caractère mathématique. La rédaction d’un article de philosophie des mathématiques, et plus généralement d’une réflexion relevant de l’histoire et/ou la philosophie des sciences, nécessite elle aussi de faire des compromis. Comment rendre les objets scientifiques accessibles aux historiens/philosophes sans entrer dans la vulgarisation ? Comment exprimer l’histoire/la philosophie des objets scientifiques sans la survoler ? Cette présentation ne prétend pas apporter les réponses à ces questions mais plutôt proposer un support de discussion afin de clarifier la posture que doit adopter l’historien/philosophe des sciences face à l’hétérogénéité de son public.

January 11, 2023

:: Write and Publish, thanks to the computer

It is increasingly valuable for history, literary studies or philology to be able to conceive writing and publishing as phenomena that arise from social practices subject to material constraints, rather than seeing them merely as a process of abstraction and communication. This way of looking at things leads us to consider with much greater attention the instruments that support scriptural and editorial practices. The obvious influence of the computer must then be considered from the classical angle of the actor/observer couple. As a new writing medium, the computer has brought out new operations in authors, and therefore new ways of composing and constructing a text. The traces left by these operations on the final medium are very different from those on paper, which were the main object of genetic criticism. As a new publication medium, the computer offers new ways of storing and classifying the information contained in the text. The choices made by researchers are the result of many factors and determine the way in which the text is received by a third agent outside the actor/observer couple: the reader.

  • 3pm - 3:10pm : Introduction
  • 3:10pm - 4:20pm Lamyk Bekius (Huygens Institute (KNAW)/Coordinator CLARIAH-VL at University of Antwerp)
    ‘Behind the screens’: keystroke logging for genetic criticism applied to born-digital works of literature
    Genetic criticism investigates analogue drafts and manuscripts to gain insights into the author’s way of working and the creative process, as well as to gain a better understanding of the work itself. Nowadays, most literary authors compose their text in a digital environment. This has led to the fear of the end of genetic criticism (Mathijsen 2009). However, the research carried out by a number of authors shows a variety of techniques to study born-digital writing processes which proves that the digital writing process leaves sufficient traces to ensure genetic analysis (Ries (2018, 2014); Kirschenbaum and Reside (2013), Kirschenbaum (2008), Crombez and Cassiers (2017), Vásári (2019), Vauthier (2016) and Fenoglio (2009)). In the project ‘Track Changes: Textual Scholarship and the challenge of digital literary writing’ (2018-2023) we investigate the possibilities of yet another tool for enabling the study of genesis of digital (literary) writing processes: the usage of the keystroke logger Inputlog at the moment of composition. Inputlog is developed at the University of Antwerp and allows the author to write in Microsoft Word (Leijten and Van Waes 2013). While the program is running, it records every keystroke and mouse movement in combination with a timestamp and saves the Word document at the start and end of each writing session. In this presentation, I will discuss how keystroke logging data can be used for genetic criticism. What does Inputlog capture, and what remains in the void? How can we reconstruct and visualize the writing process as to make it suitable for a text genetic analysis? And what does this teach us about literary writing processes?
  • 4:20pm - 4:30pm : Break
  • 4:30pm - 5:40pm Edgar Lejeune (TEMOS)
    How did historians produce scholarly editions using IBM punch cards? A comparison between two case studies (France, 1970-1980)
    From the early 1960s onwards, numerous computer-assisted historical studies were conducted in France. These studies were part of very different historiographical programmes (history of mentalities, social history, economic history), adopted various computer methods - most often developed in other social sciences (demography, linguistics, sociology) - and focused on the study of various types of historical sources (political treaties, charters, censuses, etc.). These studies also took place in different types of institutions (universities, CNRS, EHESS, laboratories, etc.), which shaped the ways in which these historians had access to computers and computer scientists. However, despite these diverse configurations, one element seems to be shared by a large number of these researchers: the storage device used for data recording, the IBM punch cards.
    My paper aims to compare two computer-assisted projects on the basis of the text-editing methods they have developed in relation to this storage technology. The first one is an international cooperation by Christiane Klapisch-Zuber and David Herlihy between 1966 and 1978. It aimed to create a "computer edition" of a late medieval archival monument: the Florentine catasto of 1427. The second is a project carried out at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne by a small group of medievalists, who focused on English political texts from the 13th to the early 16th century. I will show how three types of elements are decisive for understanding how these practices of editing texts in digital form are conceived: 1) the collective organisation of these groups; 2) the type of documents on which the study was based; and 3) the research objectives that these medievalists were pursuing.
  • 5:40pm - 5:50pm : Break
  • 5:50pm - 7pm Ariles Remaki (SPHere, Erc Philiumm, CNRS et Université Paris)
    The Leibniz tables: which numerical structures for which historical interpretations?
    Leibniz’s mathematical texts are a perfect example of a type of historical document that is extremely difficult to deal with in the context of an editorial enterprise: the draft. The digital tool holds much promise for many issues, including the particular difficulties of the mathematical elements of the texts: equations, tables, diagrams, etc. The presentation will consist of presenting various possible avenues for answering different questions, particularly those relating to genetic criticism and automatic research.Leibniz’s mathematical texts are a perfect example of a type of historical document that is extremely difficult to deal with in the context of an editorial enterprise: the draft. The digital tool holds much promise for many issues, including the particular difficulties of the mathematical elements of the texts: equations, tables, diagrams, etc. The presentation will consist of presenting various possible avenues for answering different questions, particularly those relating to genetic criticism and automatic research. We will show that the tables can be implemented by different computer structures which largely determine the way the historian conceives them a priori but also the way the reader receives them a posteriori. Finally, the tables are the simple case that founds a general problematic on the interpretation of many manuscripts and allows us to study the problem of the writing process at its root.

February 15 février

:: Places of scientific practices

Presentation of thesis:

  • Margo Stemmelin (IDHES, Université Paris 8)
    Étudier les lieux de savoirs en situation coloniale : le cas de l’École des lettres d’Alger (1879-1930)
    Renvoyant aux lieux de construction, de mise en scène et de diffusion de la science, la notion des lieux de savoir telle qu’elle a notamment été définie par Christian Jacob invite à saisir les savoirs selon leur « modes d’existence spatiale » (Jacob, 2018). En cela, cette approche permet de déconstruire les prétentions universalistes de « la » science occidentale en soulignant qu’elle dépend, elle aussi, des conditions matérielles de sa production, et que les « modalités de [sa] généralisation et universalisation » sont des « formes parmi d’autres d’une domination politique, économique et culturelle » (Ibid). L’étude des lieux de savoir se révèle donc une piste particulièrement fructueuse pour étudier les rapports entre science et colonisation. À partir du cas de l’École des lettres d’Alger, créée en 1879 dans le contexte de la colonisation française en Algérie, il s’agit de montrer combien les normes spatiales de la science qui se fixent à ce moment-là en métropole participèrent non seulement à l’appropriation de l’espace algérien et algérois par les Européens, mais furent aussi instrumentales dans l’entreprise de discréditation des savoirs vernaculaires.
  • Sarah Hijmans
    Anna Sundström et le laboratoire de Berzelius (1819-35)
    En tant que secrétaire de l’Académie suédoise des sciences, Jons Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848) dispose à partir de 1819 d’une maison à Stockholm, dans laquelle deux pièces font office de laboratoire de chimie. Jusqu’à 1835, Anna Sundström (1758-1836) vit et travaille chez lui en tant que domestique et gouvernante. Le manque de séparation physique entre la cuisine et le laboratoire se traduit par une continuité entre les différents aspects de son travail : elle s’occupe à la fois de chauffer le poêle et le bain de sable et de laver la vaisselle comme la verrerie chimique. Sundström est embauchée entre autres parce qu’elle sait reconnaître les différentes substances et elle sait effectuer des opérations chimiques. Toutefois, mon hypothèse est qu’elle ne pourrait pas être caractérisée de femme savante ou d’assistant de laboratoire, parce qu’elle diffère de ces derniers par son type de savoir et par sa classe sociale. Je présenterai un projet de recherche qui vise à interroger, à partir de ce cas d’étude, les conditions d’accès au laboratoire et la nature du travail qui y est fait au début du XIXe siècle, à une période où les espaces scientifiques se renferment progressivement.

March 16, 3pm - 7pm, Room 628, Building Olympe de Gouges

:: Presentations of thesis works

  • Elisa Dalgalarrondo (Université Paris Cité)
    Genres et mathématiques dans l’enseignement supérieur et la recherche en France : le cas de l’École Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles de Sèvres (1936-1985)
    L’Ecole Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles de Sèvres (ENSJF) fut créée en 1881 dans le but de former des enseignantes du secondaire. Devenue en 1936 un établissement d’enseignement supérieur permettant à ses étudiantes d’accéder aux professions de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche, l’ENSJF « disparaît » en 1985, en « fusionnant » avec l’Ecole Normale Supérieure d’Ulm. Des témoignages d’anciennes Sévriennes en mathématiques font ressortir l’importance de cette institution dans une discipline dominée par les hommes. Dès lors, en quoi l’étude de l’ENSJF pourrait-elle contribuer à écrire une histoire des femmes et du genre en mathématiques ? Je présenterai un projet de recherche visant à répondre à ce problème historiographique selon deux approches complémentaires. Premièrement, je souhaite examiner l’histoire de l’ENSJF par ses élèves, à la fois par le biais d’une étude prosopographique, et en suivant les biographies de quelques sévriennes. Une seconde approche permettra de parcourir cette histoire par les savoirs mathématiques, en examinant les cours spécifiquement enseignés au sein de l’ENSJF par le biais de notes prises, mais également les carrières professionnelles de sévriennes qui furent actives dans l’enseignement supérieur.
  • Flora Vachon (Cermes3/ Université Paris Cité, ED 623, SPHere) :
    Présentation du travail de thèse : Aborder le passé avec les technologies génétiques. Emergence de la paléogénétique en France
    Cette communication présente mon projet de thèse, portant sur l’émergence de la paléogénétique en France. Depuis les années 80, l’évolution des technologies de séquençage rend accessible l’information génétique ancienne. Ces approches génétiques des restes, rapidement qualifiées de paléogénétique, fascinent et intriguent profanes et experts. Elizabeth D. Jones dans son ouvrage Ancient DNA : The Making of a Celebrity Science revient sur cette naissance de la paléogénétique en lien avec l’émergence d’un imaginaire fantastique, de la résurrection hypothétique d’organismes à partir d’ADN extrait de restes anciens et de la possibilité de se rapprocher d’un groupe bien souvent fantasmé, celui des dinosaures (Jones, 2022).
    Cependant, le développement de cette paléogénétique se heurte à un double problème. Premièrement, les échantillons de restes anciens disponibles ont souvent été conservés dans des conditions environnementales telles que les molécules d’ADN qu’ils contiennent ont été très dégradées. Deuxièmement, les faibles quantités d’ADN présent sur ces restes peuvent conduire à extraire et à séquencer un ADN dit contaminant, c’est-à-dire un ADN n’appartenant pas à l’échantillon d’origine. Dans ce contexte, de nombreuses techniques et pratiques de laboratoire vont être mises en place pour contrôler l’origine et la qualité d’ADN ancien produites. Des critères précis sont édictés pour encadrer ces pratiques.
    En parallèle, la nature spécifique de l’ADN ancien, à la fois donnée génétique et vestige du passé, place ces pratiques à l’interface de plusieurs disciplines déjà bien établies comme la génétique des populations, mais également l’archéologie, la paléontologie ou la paléoanthropologie. Face à la nécessité de produire une donnée dont l’origine et la qualité sont contrôlées, la dimension multidisciplinaire de l’approche paléogénétique tend à se cristalliser dans la structuration d’espaces et de pratiques scientifiques spécifiques à cet objet d’interface, que constitue l’ADN ancien. Les configurations disciplinaires présentes dans le développement de cette approche, font intervenir un ensemble d’acteurs aux exigences parfois contradictoires, et amènent à l’émergence de dispositifs sociotechniques complexes.
    Cette présentation de mon travail de thèse propose d’apporter des éléments à ces interrogations à partir de l’ethnographie de deux laboratoires à la pointe des développements de la paléogénétique en France. Les éléments collectés permettent d’offrir une description du réseau d’acteurs et d’actants impliqués dans le développement de cette approche. L’objectif sera de dépeindre les configurations sociotechniques engagées dans la chaîne de production de l’ADN ancien.
  • Clément Bonvoisin (Université Paris Cité, ED 623, SPHere)
    Lieu de savoirs, lieu de mémoire ? Circulation d’une note de recherche de Magnus Hestenes au sein d’un think tank (1950-1961)
    Issu des travaux menés autour de questions militaires par un groupe de quatre mathématiciens soviétiques entre 1955 et 1961, le principe du maximum de Pontryagin circule rapidement en-dehors de l’Union soviétique. Aux États-Unis, ce résultat fait dès 1961 l’objet d’un article, publié par Leonard Berkovitz (1924 – 2009) dans le Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications. L’auteur y compare le principe du maximum de Pontryagin à une note de recherche, écrite en 1950 par Magnus Hestenes (1906 – 1991) et jugée « relativement indisponible ». Ce commentaire pose question : comment ce travail « relativement indisponible » demeure-t-il connu, onze ans après son écriture ? Un lieu de savoirs particulier, commun à Hestenes et Berkovitz, permet de comprendre cette mémoire : la RAND Corporation. C’est dans ce think tank, créé au sortir de la Seconde Guerre mondiale par l’U.S. Army Air Forces, que la note de recherche de Hestenes a été écrite – et sa distribution y était restreinte. La question à laquelle je souhaite répondre est alors celle de la circulation locale, pendant onze ans et parmi les milliers de rapports produits par l’organisation, de la note de Hestenes.

April 26

:: The biographic records

  • Paul-Emmanuel Timotei (Université Paris Cité, ED 623, SPHere)
    Notes on life and works: Georges-Henri Halphen’s case
    I will present questions and reflections around the biographical notes written by mathematicians. I will discuss their structure and the information they contain, linked to the scientific person of their author. I will base my study on the case of the notes on Georges-Henri Halphen (1844 - 1889).
  • Thomas Berthod (Université Paris Cité, ED 623, SPHere)
    Mathematics biographies: a multifaceted object that is both historically and philosophically useful
    In the field of mathematics, a particular class of documents can be distinguished: mathematical biographies. Like the biographies of historical figures, they tell the life story of mathematicians. However, they differ from the previous ones in the sense that they may deal exclusively with the scientific work of the latter. For example, records on the scientific work of the mathematicians themselves, or posthumously by relatives of the deceased, are a typical example of this category of documents. But what should we really include in this category? Can works such as complete works be included in this category? Can a tribute speech given in an institution be referenced as such? Beyond this taxonomic question, do these biographies of mathematicians have a real interest for the history and philosophy of science beyond the chronological and anecdotal details they may provide? From a few examples, this presentation aims at answering these questions by trying to defend two intimately correlated assertions. First, mathematical biographies are a multiform object and in particular they sometimes take unsuspected forms. Second, these biographies turn out to be particularly fertile objects of study historically, but also, perhaps more surprisingly, philosophically.
  • Clément Bonvoisin (Université Paris Cité, ED 623, SPHere)
    Shedding light and casting shadow. Historiographical issues around the biographical texts on Irmgard Flügge-Lotz
    In the United States, the wake of the Cold War saw the publication of a monograph titled Discontinuous Automatic Control (1953). Its topic was the design of a certain kind of devices, made to damp disturbances occurring in systems such as aircrafts. Its author was a German-born engineer named Irmgard Flügge-Lotz (1903 – 1974). In 1948, with her husband Wilhelm Flügge (1904 – 1990), she had moved to California to accept positions at Stanford University’s division of engineering. Biographical texts on Flügge-Lotz point that she was indeed a specialist of the theory of discontinuous automatic controls. According to these, she began investigating the topic between 1938 and 1945, as a consultant for the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt, a Berlin-based laboratory specialised in aerodynamics. This situation raises some questions left unanswered by the same biographical texts, that I intend to address: what were the motivations and circumstances for the theoretical studies carried by Flügge-Lotz in Berlin? And how did the Flügges’ migration from Berlin to Stanford unfold?
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17th May 2023

  • Gautier Depambour (SPHERE)
    "Modular structure of physical theories" (2007) – Presentation of Olivier Darrigol’s article

    In 2007, Olivier Darrigol published an article of a philosophical nature in which he proposed a new vision of physical theories based on his own experience as a historian. According to him, these theories are made up of "modules" that can be arranged in many different ways, and that can evolve over time. First, I will try to explain what these modules consist of, starting from the definition (given by Olivier Darrigol) of a physical theory - the modules must themselves be considered as physical theories. I will then present the different types of modules, i.e. the different roles they can play within a physical theory, taking an example in each case. I will then mention some epistemological consequences of this modular structure, as a preamble to Jimmy Degroote’s intervention, who will place this philosophical work in a more general framework. Finally, I will try to show how I intend to apply Olivier Darrigol’s theory to my own thesis, which will lead, I hope, to characterize the "modular structure of quantum optics.
  • Jimmy Degroote (SPHERE)
    The modular structure of physical theories: a philosophical thesis ?

    The modular interpretation of physical theories defended by Darrigol in his 2007 article is obviously of major interest for those who are interested in the history of science and wish to understand it in its finest grain. It is also of interest to the philosopher because of the epistemological reflection it develops on the general structure of physical theories and the exact function of mathematics in their functioning. Volens nolens, it thus engages with a certain number of "classical" problems of contemporary philosophy of science, in particular the questions linked to incommensurability or to the modalities of refutation of theories. I would like to discuss these positions and understand to what extent they help us to renew our approach to these debates.

07th June 2023

  • Elena Danieli
    Iron Hands – Authority and Power in 18th-Century French Obstetrics through its Instruments

    In 1670, when the obstetrical forceps was employed for the first time in France, its use was immediately boycotted by the influential François Mauriceau (1637-1709), head obstetrician at the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris. Mauriceau described as “despicable” the "extreme violence" that had been inflicted on the patient on whom the new instrument had been tested. One hundred twenty years later, obstetrician Jean-Louis Baudelocque (1745-1810), professor at the École de santé de Paris, defined the forceps as "the most important invention ever for obstetrics." This address will investigate how and why such a shift took place.
    In the second half of the 18th century, the use of the forceps had become advertised in obstetrical manuals and, in just a few years, these tools became the emblem of a modern approach to childbirth and the symbol of obstetric surgeons, who had the monopoly of their use, contrary to midwives. The introduction of these devices changed the age-old phenomenon of childbirth to a masculine, instrument-based, medicalized event.
    This talk will explore how the evolution of forceps’ design and reputation mirrors the development of obstetric surgeons’ power over rhythms and modalities of deliveries. This overview will allow observing the tensions between surgeons and midwives and the clash between anatomo-mechanists and vitalists that erupted in late 18th-century France. Moreover, it will allow for a reconsideration of the concepts of nature and contre nature in the obstetrics of the time from the perspective of material history.
  • Clément Bonvoisin
    Building authority and authorship: the case of Pontryagin’s maximum principle

    From 1956 to 1961, a Moscow-based group of Soviet mathematicians composed of Lev Pontryagin (1908 – 1988) and three of his former students published a series of texts on the theory of optimal processes. At the heart of the theory was the practical problem of finding the most performing ways to achieve certain processes, such as correcting trajectories of ballistic missiles, or intercepting them. Through their texts, the authors put forward a result of their work that they framed as central to the theory – the maximum principle that eventually was associated to Pontryagin’s name alone. In this talk, I wish to question the interplay between authority and authorship in the history of this result: how was authorship on the maximum principle ascribed to Lev Pontryagin, and how did this series of texts help him gain scientific authority?
  • Edgar Lejeune
    Mainframe computer or programmable pocket calculator? Choosing a computing tool is an act of academic rebellion (France, 1970s)

    In 1967, the Centre de Recherches Historiques of the VIth section of the EHESS launched a collective study dedicated to the development of the medieval cities in France between 1200 and 1550. Regarding the lack of archives for this period, historians chose to base their survey on a census of all mendicant orders. Their hypothesis was the following: the urban fact was directly correlated to the development of the mendicant convents. In order to follow this path, they elaborated a statistical analysis with the help of mainframe computers and computer scientists.
    A few years later, one of the participants of that first investigation, Alain Guerreau, proposed another work based on the exact same hypothesis and the exact same source, but with a rather different approach. As he was opposed to the division of labor implied by the uses of mainframe computers, he proposed his own individual study based on the use of a programmable pocket calculator. He also chose to use a probabilistic approach rather than a frequentist one, and performed several correspondence analyses (a multidimensional statistical operation) in order to analyze the phenomenon.
    This presentation proposes to show to what extent the position of an actor within the field is an important dimension in order to understand his epistemological choices. The analysis will focus on four main points: the social organizations of these studies, the choice of the computing tools, the differences between the two methodologies adopted by the actors and the different types of texts used in each context.
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