90067 - Cultural History of Science (2) (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Docente: Marco Beretta
  • Credits: 6
  • SSD: M-STO/05
  • Language: Italian
  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in History and Oriental Studies (cod. 8845)

    Also valid for Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Philosophical Sciences (cod. 8773)

Learning outcomes

The aims of the course is to refine the student’s analytical skills and demonstrate: the ability to interpret both the primary and secondary literature so as to contextualise the history of scientific thought in relation to the history of philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, social and political history and the institutional history of the time; to carry out archival and bibliographical research making use of databases, online catalogues, and bibliographical inventories; to contribute to class discussion with a series of coherent and properly justified comments about the assigned themes (via short presentations and class discussion); to produce a series of written outputs (reviews, reflexive notes, essays) with the appropriate scholarly apparatus (footnotes, bibliography, illustrations), particularly in view of their dissertation.

Course contents

D'Alembert and Rousseau on science. The eighteenth century is a century that marks a radical turning point in the history of science and technology. Around the publication of the volumes of the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert, a spirit of reform involved all the main protagonists of the French Enlightenment. The unexpected and sensational success of the Encyclopedia caused violent disputes even within the party of the so-called Philosophes. The course will focus on the controversy that broke out between Jean Jacques Rousseau and Jean d'Alembert on the value to be attributed to the arts, techniques, sciences and progress.

The lectures will be devoted to the exploration of the parallel lives of the two protagonists. both marked by a modest origin, and to an examination of the encyclopedic enterprise promoted by Denis Diderot, a close friend of both. In the following lectures, Rousseau's critical vision on science and technology and his predilection for botany, presages of a moral and primitivist vision of nature, will be examined. The works of Rousseau that will be mainly examined will be the Discourse on the sciences and the arts and the autobiographical writings. D’Alembert’s Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopédie will be critically examined, and it will be shown that his vision, opposite to that of Jean Jacques, regarded science as the main engine of the social and cultural transformation. The features of this famous controversy, which involved the major intellectuals of the time, have accompanied the debate on the value of science up to the present day and in the last lectures I will illustrate those aspects that have significantly changed, from Positivism onwards, the main currents of contemporary philosophical and scientific thought.

 BEGINNING OF THE COURSE SEPTEMBER 18, 2022, aula C, via Zamboni 34, monday, tuesday and wednsday h. 11-13


Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discorso sulle scienze e sulle arti (Milano: Rizzoli, qualsiasi edizione)

Jean d'Alembert, Discorso preliminare all'Encyclopédie pubblicato in Enciclopedia o Dizionario ragionato delle scienze, delle arti e dei mestieri ordinato da Diderot e d'Alembert (Bari: Laterza, 2019).

Paolo Casini, Introduzione all'Illuminismo (Bari: Laterza, 1973 o 1980); Premessa, Capitolo primo (La sintesi newtoniana) e capitolo sesto (L'età dell''Encuclopedia').

Per i non frequentati va aggiunto:

Jean d'Alembert, Saggio sui rapporti tra intellettuali e potenti (Torino: Einaudi, 1977)

Teaching methods

Presentation (in Italian) of the classical texts through powerpoint slides

Assessment methods

The exam consists in an oral interview during which the methodological and critical skills acquired by the student will be evaluated . The student will be invited to discuss the texts covered during the course and to contextualise them in their historical epoch. The achievement of a systematic knowlege of the issues addressed during the classes and a critical approach to the sources combined with precision of language will be assessed with marks of excellence (28-30). Mechanical and / or mnemonic knowledge of the texts combined with scholastic exposé will be assessed by good marking (23-27); training gaps and superficial contextualization and knoledge of the texts will be assessed with sufficient markings (18-22). Lacks of any of the above requirements will lead to a negative marking.

Office hours

See the website of Marco Beretta


Reduced inequalities

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.