What a Century!

Ref. In the Spirit of Linnaeus: The Tercentenary Lectures on Science and Art, by Mariano Akerman, Manila and Taytay, Philippines, 2007

Linnaeus and the Age of Reason

Linnaeus lived in the eighteenth century. He developed his work in a period of time that falls between Hogarth’s Inhabitants of the Moon, a 1700 print mocking the socio-political order of the day, and the launching of the first balloon by the Montgolfière brothers in 1783.

Almost everything that distinguishes the modern Western world from earlier centuries—industrialized production, bureaucratized government, the new conceptions that science introduced into philosophy, the whole climate of thought and opinion—overlapped during the eighteenth century with the old political and social order, the ancien régime.

It was the last period in which it was widely believed that "kings are by God appointed," the first in which it could be claimed as "self-evident" that (in the words of the American Declaration of Independence, 1776) "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The incompatibility of these claims with traditional systems of monarchic or oligarchic government was not shown up until the last decade of the century, when the French Revolution gave a new meaning to the ideas of “liberty, equality and fraternity.”

While the middle class encouraged new ideas and financed technological advances, the thinkers of the Enlightenment fostered the ideas of Reason and Freedom.

Because of the brilliance of its thinkers the whole century was actually an intellectual turning point, aptly known as the Age of Reason.

Here are their ideas:

1) "One can fool some men, or fool all men in some places and times, but one cannot fool all men in all places and ages” (Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, 1754, vol. 4).

2) “If we don’t find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new" (Voltaire, Candide, 1759, ch. 17: « Si nous ne trouvons pas des choses agréables, nous trouverons du moins des choses nouvelles »).

3) "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains" (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du contract social, 1762, bk. 1, ch. 1: « L’homme est né libre, et partout il es dans les fers »).

4) "Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man. He forces one soil to nourish the products of another, one tree to bear the fruit of another. He mixes and confuses the climates, the elements, the seasons. He mutilates his dog, his horse, his slave. He turns everything upside down: he disfigures everything; he loves deformity, monsters. He wants nothing as nature made it, not even man; for him, man must be trained like as school horse; man must be fashioned in keeping with his fancy like a tree in his garden" (Rousseau, Émile ou de l’éducation, 1762, bk. 1)

5) "In this world we run the risk of having to choose between being the anvil or the hammer" (Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764: “Tyranny”).

6) "Common sense is not so common” (Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1765 : "Common Sense." His original words are: « Le sens commun est fort rare »).

The Enlightenment radiated out of the philosophical and scientific thought of the seventeenth century, especially that of Descartes, of John Locke, who propounded a philosophy based on empirical observation and common sense, and of Isaac Newton, who provided a rational explanation of the laws determining and working of the universe.

Despite many and profound differences, the leaders of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment shared a faith in the power of the human mind to solve every problem. They believe in human perfectibility and in the possibility of human omniscience. And in this optimistic belief all physical phenomena were studied and categorized and all aspects of human behavior were scrutinized from a strictly rational viewpoint—political systems, social customs, religious practices. Everything that seemed to them worth knowing was ordered and encapsulated in the great French encyclopedia (1751-72).

It aimed to survey knowledge according to rational philosophical principles. "Dare to know! Have the courage to use your understanding; this is the motto of the Enlightenment," the German philosopher Immanuel Kant declared in 1784.

Science seemed to make the universe more, rather than less, mysterious.

Newton’s mechanistic conception of creation—an orderly system set in motion by "a divine clock-maker"—gave way to one that was organic. This was epitomized by Linnaeus’ classification of the natural species.

Distinguishing from his predecessor’s myths and inaccuracies, Linnaeus’s new scientific attitude was based on observation and empiricism.

As the most famous Swedish biologist of all times put it in his Philosophia botanica of 1751: "In the natural sciences, the principles of truth are to be confirmed by observation."

Eighteenth-century Europe was capitalist, mercantilist, and expansionist. Distinctive of the Age of Reason, le voyage autour du monde or trip around the globe was a reflection of a new interest in the world. Many were eager to participate in these explorations and Linnaeus encouraged quite a number of his students to travel around the world, searching new species to be recorded, named and classified.

Observation, journeys and publications led to a change in people’s awareness of the world they lived in.

In changing people's awareness of the world they lived in, invaluable was Linnaeus’ contribution.

Linnaeus was the Father of Modern Biology.

Carl Linnaeus’ science marked a fundamental victory of reason over caprice and preconception.

CARL VON LINNÉ. Carolus Linnaeus, 1707-1778. Carl Linnaeus. The Eighteenth Century. Age of Reason. Enlightenment. Europe. Sweden. Science and Art. Education. Idea, research and design: Mariano Akerman © 2007 All Rights Reserved

Initially published as "What a Century!", Manila, 19.1.2007

Original Post Illustrations
1 Mariano Akerman, The Eighteenth Century, digital image, 2007
2 Eighteenth-century prints showing the Inhabitants of the Moon, a mature Carl Linnaeus, and the launching of La Montgolfière in Paris, six years before the French Revolution
3 Fra Andrea Pozzo, Europe, fresco, Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola, Rome, early eighteenth century
4 Nature, eighteenth-century allegorical image
5 Mariano Akerman, Just a Moment before the French Revolution, pencil and ink, 1989. Present whereabouts unknown.
6 Mariano Akerman, The Age of Reason, digital photo-collage, 2007
7 Mariano Akerman, Artifice vs. Nature, digital contrast, 2007
8 Etienne-Louis Boullée, Design for Monument to Isaac Newton, ink and wash drawing, 1784 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). Désert de Retz, Chambourcy, wash design for a broken column residence, c. 1785 (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm)
9 D’Alembert, L’Encyclopédie, Diderot
10 Linnea borealis, reindeers, Linnaeus as Laplander
11 Plate showing Linnaeus’ Sexual System of Botanical Classification of 1735
12 Linnaeus portrayed holding a Linnaea borealis and his monumental Systema Naturae, first published in 1735
13 An illustration from Olaus Magnus’ Historia of 1555, showing a gigantic lobster attacking an unfortunate sailor.
14 Linnaeus’ descriptive notes and a page from his herbarium (with a plant named "Veronica")
15 Journeys of Linnaeus seventeen disciples across the world
16 Joseph Wright, Experiment with the Air-pump, oil, 1768 (Tate Gallery, London)
17 The launching of La Montgolfière, Paris, 1783 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)
18 Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Joseph Baretti, 1774; Jean-Honoré Fragonard, A Young Girl Reading, 1776 (Prado, Madrid)
19 Linnaeus’ notebook and other belongings he used during his Lapland exploration
20 Linnaeus’ Musa paradisica and the title page of his Hortus Clifortianus of 1737
21 Some assorted books published by Linnaeus during the eighteenth century
22 A Tribute to Carl Linnaeus
23 Mariano Akerman, Caprice vs. Reason, digital contrast, 2007
24 Akerman, Homage to the French Revolution, digital image, 2005
25 Akerman, Curly Sky, digital image, 2005
26 Akerman, Temple of Inclusion, digital image, 2005
27 Akerman, In the Spirit of Linnaeus, digital composition, 2006

Slides from In the Spirit of Linnaeus, educational lectures, Manila 2007

CARL VON LINNÉ. Carolus Linnaeus, 1707-1778. Carl Linnaeus. The Eighteenth Century. Age of Reason. Enlightenment. Europe. Sweden. Science and Art. Education. Idea, research and design: Mariano Akerman © 2007 All Rights Reserved

Online resources
Linnaeus-Manila Program
In the Spirit of Linnaeus
Rara avis
Kingdom and Ecology
The Same Order
El mismo orden


Gabriella said...

Each of your posts is not only a great source of knowledge, but also a masterwork of art.

Isabelle Lopez said...

Isabelle Lopez, élève de seconde (lycée), Ecole française de Manille: "The conference has been a pleasurable experience. Linnaeus’ life as an adolescent in my opinion is very inspiring. I think we could all take example upon. What I admire the most about him is how ambitious and determined he was with the classification at a very young age. Thank you for the educational opportunity."

EFM said...

Elèves de l'Ecole française de Manille: "Lors de la conférence sur Carl Linné, nous avons découvert un homme révolutionnaire pour son époque car il était un des premiers hommes à adopter une rigueur extrême lors de ses recherches. Il était un des premiers à vouloir vérifier ses hypothèses à travers des expériences, ou des voyages pour voir le phénomène de ses propres yeux : il appliquait ce qu’on appelle la méthode scientifique, aujourd’hui. Ce procédé est la base de l’enseignement scientifique (au moins pour les sciences expérimentales). Expose qui, a la fois, va nous aider a clasifier les differents type de vegetaux et qui nous incite a battre la polution."

EFM said...

Elèves de l'Ecole française de Manille. Voici les réactions de la classe de 3ème: "L'idée d'avoir organisé une conférence sur Carl Linaeus à l'école française de Manille est intéressante. Nous avons appris que ce chercheur a commencé très jeune. Il est à l'origine de la classification du monde végétal et animal. Le niveau de la conférence était élevé mais ce moment restera une expérience inoubliable."