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Fontenelle Essay.docx

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York University
HUMA 1910
Joan Steigerwald

Speculation and Skepticism’s Contribution in the Advancement of New Science Srowcha (Aida) Stanford 212698916 Humanities 1910 - Science and the Humanities: Nature and Human Nature Professor Lightman November 3, 2013 1 An imaginary conversation between a charming philosopher and his hostess, the Marquise in Conversation on the Plurality of Worlds written by Bernard de Bovier de Fontenelle offers a conversational explanation of the heliocentric idea made by Copernicus and enlightens the speculated theory of life beyond earth. Fontenelle’s firm understanding that the new science of his time is extremely controversial brought him to writing this novel in fictitious dialogue with interplay of speculation and skepticism, helping new science to be understandable to the mass audience. Although the text is heavily reliant on skepticism, there are traces of speculation as Fontenelle suggests that speculation is key to science. “All philosophy […] is based on two things only: curiosity and poor eyesight” (Fonetenelle, 11), these words give clear suggestion that speculation and skepticism work together and will continue so in the text. Essentially, Fontenelle is stating if you are skeptical enough you can distinguish fallacy and if you do not speculate you would know the unadulterated truth. This quote in the first evening itself brings forth Fontenelle’s idea that speculation and skepticism work together in furthering scientific knowledge; one does not work without the other. Fontenelle introduces skeptical tone at once in the first evening as his conversation with the Marquise immediately sets pace as a flirtatious and intelligent one; perhaps with the intent of using his immense knowledge about the solar system to woo the lady. The setting of witty and entertaining discussion with a lady under the night sky when thoughts are free to speculate exemplifies the notion that the Marquise stands for the educated reader with an open mind, reiterating Fontenelle’s belief that new science is understandable, even to a woman. Without delay, Fontenelle poses the philosopher’s “peculiar notion that every star could well be a world” (Fontenelle, 10), noting that the point of this novel is the speculation of life beyond earth. However, Fontenelle does not lunge into how this could be but rather decode the layers of 2 understanding the universe to the Marquise mirroring her as an uneducated reader on the outlawed subject. As the second evening approaches we see the clear introduction of questionable life on other planets. The Marquise says “but I’ve never yet heard anyone say that the Moon was inhabited, […] except as a fantasy and a delusion” (Fontenelle, 23), expressing that the philosopher’s opinion of life on the moon is absurd – meaning there has been no speculation in her mind. To further help the Marquise grasp the truthfulness of the idea of extraterrestrial life, Fontenelle formulates the metaphor of the lack of communication between Earth and Moon to Paris and Saint-Denis. Effectively stating that just because “a townsman of Paris who has never been out of his city […] sees Saint-Denis from a distance” (Fontenelle, 24) will deny ever seeing the people of Saint-Denis and never heard of them because of the great distance, allowing him to believe that Saint-Denis is not inhabited. Even though Saint-Denis resembles Paris quite well, it will make no difference to the townsman if he has never
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