(1717-1783)'/> (1717-1783)' /> (1717-1783)' /> Biography of Jean-Baptiste Le Rond d' Alembert <small>(1717-1783)</small> - TheBiography.us

Biography of Jean-Baptiste Le Rond d' Alembert (1717-1783)

Jean Baptiste Le Rond d'Alembert.

Mathematician, writer and French philosopher born in Paris November 17, 1717 and died in the same city on 29 October 1783.

Biographical synthesis

He studied different subjects, but I was especially attracted to mathematics. In 1741 he/she entered the Paris Academy of Sciences; in this same decade he/she published his main mathematical works (mechanics and astronomy), and between 1751 and 1758 most of articles on this subject in the Encyclopédie Française de Diderot, which gave him great prestige. Since 1754 it belonged to the French Academy, and from the 1960s is dedicated to literature and philosophy the not be able to continue with math by health problems. More important as a mathematician who as a philosopher, was one of the most characteristic of the French Enlightenment rationalist and skeptic. See illustration.

Childhood and training

Apparently, was abandoned on the steps of the Parisian church of Saint Jean le Rond, being adopted by a glassmaker called d'Alembert, who gave his surname, and whose wife raised him. His natural father was an artillery officer named Louis-Camus Destouches, who took it with the writer Claudia Tencin. This, absent the first, to giving birth left the baby in the mentioned Church; Destouches, back, tried to offset the abandonment giving to the d'Alembert means for educating the child.

After the death of Destouches, the family continued according to the expenses of the child, which went to continue his studies in the College des Quatre Nations ('College of the four Nations'), of jansenist tendency. As curious data, noting that it was the time when he/she began to use the name of Jean d'Alembert (enrolled as Jean-Baptiste Maryland). At this school he/she started in math, based on the work of Pierre Varignon. Also, he/she met there the ideas of Physics of René Descartes. After graduating in 1735, he/she refused to study theology, as it was very common in the school, and chose right, but without ever abandoning his true vocation, mathematics. Entitled lawyer in 1738, did not exercise as such, as he/she continued to study medicine and, by his account, math.

Mathematical, physical, and collaborator of theEncyclopedia

In 1739 sent its first letter to the Paris Academy of Sciences, where he/she pointed out an error in the Analyse demontree ('proven analysis') of Charles René Reyneau; This was followed in 1740 another mechanical envelope of fluids that was praised by the mathematician Alexis Clairaut. In may 1741 was inducted into the Academy, at the age of twenty-three: his income thesis dealt with the integral calculus.

Throughout this decade and the beginning of the 1950s he/she published his most important mathematical works, dedicated especially to the calculation of integral equations in mechanics and dynamics. He/She is considered one of the founders of mathematical physics. In 1743 he/she delivered to the printing press Traité de dynamique (dynamic ' Treaty'), which contains its beginnings on mechanics (which for him is a part of mathematics, belonging to the geometry to algebra), summarized in the "D ' Alembert principle". This work helped to resolve some doubts about the conservation of kinetic energy that the 3rd law of Newton had not fully clarified. Before its publication, he/she had already read parts of his book to the Academy of Sciences at the end of 1742; shortly after, Clairaut exhibited his own work on dynamic (like on the other hand the of d'Alembert), which was the origin of a strong rivalry between the two that greatly enturbiaría the membership of d'Alembert to the Academy of Sciences. It then ceased to read his book and sent it to the printer. Against Newton, it considered that the laws of motion were explainable in a logical way without resorting to experimentation.

In 1744 he/she published the results of his studies on fluids in Traité de l' Équilibre et du mouvement des fluides (Treaty of the balance and the movement of fluids), alternative theories of the Swiss Daniel Bernoulli, where he/she applied his principle about the movement; It meant the discovery of integral calculus of derivatives. He/She then raised a number of partial differential equations which do not completely resolved.

To 1746 d'Alembert, that barely had a social life so then (continued to live with his adoptive mother until her death in 1757), was introduced in the Parisian salons, thus gaining some popularity. Among others, attended the meetings organizing Julie de Lespinasse, possibly his cousin and lover. Also around this time began his collaboration with Denis Diderot in his great project: the Encyclopédie ('encyclopedia'). D'Alembert would be responsible for the areas of mathematics and Physics Astronomy, although his work in it surpassed by far these responsibilities. The first volume would not appear until 1751, including a preface written by him himself, very well valued by the naturalist George Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, in which presented the fundamentals of work and knowledge in general, science and technology. In the following years, until 1758, he/she decided almost all articles related to mathematics of the 28 volumes of the encyclopedia; the best of them are perhaps those of geometry and probability.

In 1746 he/she published Théorie generate des vents ('general theory of the winds'), which was studying a new type of differential equation, and which was awarded by the Academy of Berlin. Known then by the King of Prussia Federico II, it offered him the post of President of the Berlin Academy, but did not accept it.

Based on it, the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler developed more than its own author studies about mechanics; in fact, the works of d'Alembert on winds had some bugs, derived from its low valuation of observation and experimentation, which originated a new and bitter argument with Clairaut. It was also criticized for this reason by Bernoulli. Euler, for its part, had initially improved relations with d'Alembert that colleagues, who broke to 1751 by a dispute that also included Samuel König and the new offer by Federico II to d'Alembert to direct Prussian Academy instead of the own Euler. Thus, d'Alembert, who during the early fifties published his mathematical articles in the aforementioned Academy, after having been rejected by the Paris by the rivalry with Euler also stopped sending them to the Prussian; He/She collected them and finally published them as Opuscules mathématiques in 8 volumes. Around this time he/she formulated for the first time, which later would be known as d'Alembert, then demonstrated by Karl Friedrich Gausstheorem.

In 1749 he/she completed the first of his great works about astronomy (celestial mechanics), Recherches sur the precession des equinoxes et sur the rotation of the axis of the Earth ('research on the precession of the equinoxes and the rotation of the Earth's axis'), reprinted later between 1754 and 1756 with the title Recherches sur différents points importants du système du monde ('studies on different points of the world system'). November 28, 1754 he/she was accepted into the French Academy (of letters), of which he/she was Perpetual Secretary from 1772. Also in this same year he/she published Differentiel ('differential'), article included in volume 4 of the encyclopedia, in which he/she noted the importance of the theory of limits. Their knowledge on the subject contributed called test of the ratio of d'Alembert, published in volume 5 of the Opuscules. Also paid attention to the problem of three bodies attracting each other, very studied by mathematicians of the time. In 1764 he/she visited to the Prussian King, who renewed his earlier offer, d'Alembert, which declined as it rejected the Russian Tsarina Catherine II to exercise as tutor of his son, the future Paul I.

D'Alembert, late man of letters

In the last years of his life he/she paid increased attention to literature and philosophy, partly because of his poor health, that since 1765 it prevented him from focusing on mathematical problems, which how it wrote to Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1777, they were what really interested him. His philosophical contributions were published between 1753 and 1767 in the Mélanges de littérature et de philosophie ('miscellany of literature, history and philosophy', 1752). Also wrote Essai sur les Eléments de philosophie ('essay on the fundamentals of philosophy', 1759); Éclaircissements ('clarifications', 1765) and Elements of musique théorique et pratique, suivant principes les de M. Rameau ('Foundations of theoretical music and practice according to the principles of M. Rameau', 1772, where exhibits a musical theory about vibrating strings that had begun to study in 1747).

His philosophical writings stated skeptic in the metaphysical issues; Although these publications seemed to accept that intelligence could not have origin in only matter, and therefore did not rule out the existence of God, privately was materialistic, convinced by Diderot around 1770. Thus, known not believing, died after an illness of the bladder was buried in a mass grave without a name.

D'Alembert, man admired by the monarchs mentioned Federico II of Prussia and Catherine II of Russia and Marie François de Arouet, Voltaire, friend is won however many rivals within the scientific world because of his excitement in various controversies in which he/she participated. Little traveller, but spirit illustrated, it was brilliant and systematic, and tended to draw general conclusions from specific elements. Critic of Catholicism (supported the expulsion of the Jesuits) and with the former regime, his thought, together with other philosophers, had draught at the time and ideologically prepared the revolution of 1789. Despite this, he/she was a secondary school in the field of philosophy, much more important figure in the mathematics.

Commemorative stamp of the great scientist.


D'ALEMBERT, JEAN LE ROND D'. Discours préliminaire de l' Encyclopédie. (Paris, Librairie philosophique J. Vrin: 2000).

D'ALEMBERT, JEAN LE ROND D'. Works. (Works by d'Alembert). (Geneva, Slatkine Reprints: 1967).

GRIMSLEY, R. Jean D'Alembert (1717-83). (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1963).

GROULT, M. d'Alembert et la mécanique de la vérité dans l' Encyclopédie. (Paris, Champion: 1999).

HANKINS, T.L. Jean d'Alembert, Science and the Enlightenment. (Oxford, University Press: 1970).

MULLER, M. Essai sur Jean d'Alembert philosophie. (Paris: 1926).

PAPPAS, J.N. Voltaire and d'Alembert. (Bloomington, Indiana University Press: 1962).

PATY, M. d'Alembert et temps are: Eléments de biographie. (Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg: 1977).

Links on the Internet