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Bernard le Bouyer de Fontenelle

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11 Feb 1657

Rouen, France

9 Jan 1757

Paris, France

Bernard de Fontenelle was educated in a Jesuit College in Rouen and became friends with Varignon and de l'Hôpital . He wrote on the history of mathematics and the philosophy of mathematics and science. He evaluated the works of others extremely well and his works contain a wonderful source of information about the scientists of his era.

Fontenelle's most famous work was Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686). He was elected to the Académie Française in 1691 and became permanent secretary of the Académie des Sciences from 1697. Fontenelle presented many obituary notices to the Académie , those of Newton and Leibniz being particularly notable.

In 1699 Fontenelle wrote Of the Usefulness of Mathematical Learning. In it he wrote

To what purpose should People become fond of the Mathematicks and Natural Philosophy? ... People very readily call Useless what they do not understand. It is a sort of Revenge ... .

One would think at first that if the Mathematicks were to be confin'd to what is useful in them, they ought only to be improv'd in those things which have an immediate and sensible Affinity with Arts, and the rest ought to be neglected as a Vain Theory. But this would be a very wrong Notion. As for Instance, the Art of Navigation hath a necessary Connection with Astronomy, and Astronomy can never be too much improv'd for the Benefit of Navigation. Astronomy cannot be without Optics by reason of Perspective Glasses: and both, as all parts of the Mathematicks are grounded upon Geometry ... .

Source:School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland