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Science in Portugal during the Enlightenment


 

 

 

The Sciences in the European Periphery During the Enlightenment

 Por Kostas Gavroglu

 

This paper focusse on the introduction , dissemination and propagation of “the new sciences “ in 18th century portuguese mainland. Although the specific characteristics of the reception of science in various national contexts is a lively topic. The international comunity of historians of science has scarcely adressed the history of science in Portugal. There is no study of the subject per se, and in the most recent work in wish Portugal appears, it is in the context of the history of science in the Iberian Penisula as a whole . It is mislanding to conflate the Portuguese and the Spanish cases; the claim can be made that there is no receved view on the topic of Portuguese science at the level of the international scholarly comunity .

In Portugal itself the situation is quiet different. Although a comunity of professional historians of science has been building up during the last decade, the study of the history of the science of the 18th century Portugal has been porsued mainly in the context of cultural history. Sporadic contribuitions in the “ évenementielle” genre have been also made by historians and by scientists.However a consistent study of eighteenth-century portuguese science was carried out about over fourthy years by the physics teacher, pedagogue, poet, and historian of science Ramalho de Carvalho (1906-1997). Romulo de Carvalho belonged to a descriptive tradition that has produced many detailed and highly erudit accounts. He contributed case studies, general works and various papers taking a somewhat a Wiggish approacth to the eighteenth-century portuguese scientific context. He focussed almost exclusively on lasting contributions to scientific disciplines such as physics, emphasizing the role modernity was defined loosely as everything wich opposed Aristotelianism and Scholasticism. In the final years of the seventeenth cemtury, the growing emphasis on scientific and and technological research defined a new epistemological frame work that called for a radical change in the relation between theory and practice. The reinterpretation of Aristotle was insufficient, and a new phylosophy, a new physics and a new methodology were requiered.

The practice of experiment as a crucial element in the new epistemological context was to have one of its strongest pillars in the Oratorians. The oratorian João Baptista (1705-1761) was one of those who fought Scholasticism, attempted to rehabilitate Aristotle by showing how his texts has been generally distorced by portuguese commentators, and reconstructed what he considered to be the genuine Aristotelian phylospy in the book Philosphia Aristotelica Restituta (1748) in wich Baptista reconciled Aristotelianism with Newtonian Physics. From 1737, he became the most influential Oratorian advocating experimental philosophy in the court of king João V.

The Oratorians were endoded by João V with an appropriate building, the Casa das Necessidades, in wich they established an open library, a cabinet for natural sciences equipped with appropriate apparatus, and a printing-office. In 1750, they run a course on experimental physics, wich by advocatinhg experiment in the context of the confrontation between the ancients and moderns and, became the centre of lively controversy. In the satirical Panflet Mercurio Philosophico wich circulated in Lisbon, this course was ridiculed:

The demonstration of a pneumatic machine and the apparent ressurrection of a rabbi had just ended, living the gentlemen of the audience astonished. Many were the comments on the demonstration (…) I heard one person asking if in the time of Aristotle a similar machine ever existed. As the reply was negative, he retorted:

-Do we know already more than Aristotle?

-Yes, answered the priest demonstrator. He added that in Physical matters Aristotle had been rather sluggish.

During the reign of João V, the Oratorians competed with the Jesuits for supramacy over the teaching system; they were to impress their mark upon various intellectuals and men of science, who were either educated by them or belonged to their congregation. The dispute between Jesuits and Oratorians over the control of the Portuguese teaching system is emblamatic of the processus of dissemination of the Enlightnment in Portugal. However, the main characters of this processus were the estrangeirados ( Europe-oriented intellectuals), who more vividly represented the new spirit of the Scientifc Revolution. The estrangeirados constituted an informal network composed both of resident foreighers and Portuguese, who had established contacts with European intellectual circles, either though academic edication abroad or in their profesional life. The Estrangeirados, diverse in their background and careers, were linked by their wish to introduce into Portugal the scientific rationality of the Enlightenment, and by opposition to the Inquisition and the power of religious fanaticism.

Examples of estrangeirados advocating a reform of cultural, social, political and economic ideas, were Luís da Cunha (1662-17749), his follower Alexandre de Gusmão and the count of Ericeira (1673-17743) together with his circle of friends and protégés. In particula the count of Ericeira, known as “Learned Conferences” “daring subjects” were discussed -questions of method, modern philosophy and logic, and the very notion of progress. Their faith in the superiority of the moderns

in alignement with european philosophers, such as Jean Bodin or Joseph Glanvill, is apparent from the following excerpt.

Undoubtdelly, our contemporaries have equal or even greater qualities of judgement and reasoning than their prodecessours . This is shown by the perfection of grandeur of today's arts and sciences. The books written by the moderns exceed in number, method, contents, quality and elegance all the work of the ancients. (,,,) In the industrial arts new usefull inventions are regularly produced in order to easy daily life. With telescopes one can see even the most hidden regions of the moon; with microscopes the anatomy of attoms become possible; with thermometers the degrees of heat and cold can be measured; with barometers the heaviness and lightness of air can be known.(...)

The “Learned Conferences” promoted by the Count of Ericeira, incorporated the activities of the Academia dos Discretos ( Academy of the Discret ) and the Portuguese Academy (1696-1716 and 1717). The purpose of these private Academies was the discussion of scientific and historical questions, In turn the Academy of the Discreet had incorporated the Academia dos Generosos ( Academy of the Gererous ) (1649-1693) wich had been founded in Lisbon, in the seventeenth century by Antonio Alvares da Cunha (1626-1690) and continued by his son Luis da Cunha. This informal gatherings were to fing an official counterpart in the Academia Real da Historia ( Royal Academy of History ) (1720)

Another outcome of this movement of intellectual renovation was the foundation, in 1749, of the Real Academia Médico-Portopolitana ( Royal Medico Academy of OPorto ). Behind its creation were two physicians, Manuel Gomes de Lima (1726-1806 ) and Sachetti Barbosa ( 1714-1774) who associated to their iniciative Castro Sarmento (1691-1774 ), and the jewish estrangeirado Ribeiro Sanches (1699-1783).

Thus in the first hals of the eighteenth-century the main strategy of the Portuguese intellectuals in legitimating a new discourse and a new practice relied on diffusion of through informal or formal gatherings, wich leed to the creation of private or public academies.

Another stratedy was the publication of books of philosophical character for a general audience. Rafael Bluteau (1638-1734) one of the active participants in the “Learned Conferences “ authored the Vocabulário de Língua Portuguesa ( Vocaburary of Portuguese Language 1712-1721) based on the ideas of the enlightenment and on the “modern” authors; the engenier Manuel de Azevedo Fortes (1660-1749) another member of the “Learning Conferences” wrote the Logica Racional Geométrica e Analítica ( Analytical Geometrical and Rational Logic,1744 ) wich introduced cartesianism in Portugal in a systematised presentation. The estrangeirado and converso Jacob de Castro Sarmento who had been involved in the creation of the Royal Medical Academy of Oporto, introduced the Newtonian theory of tides to a national audience, in 1737, in a book entitled Theorica Verdadeira das Marés conforme à philophia do incomparável cavalheiro Isaac Newton ( The true theorie of the tides, according to the phylosophy of the incomparable gentleman Isaac Newton );and finally the estrangeirado Luís Antonio Verney (1713.1792) published the widely read “O verdadeiro método de estudar” (True method to study -1746) a philosophical work in wich the archaic teaching practices of portuguese universities were criticised and a pedagogical reform was based on enlightnement ideals was advocated with special emphasis on the importance of experiment and mathematics in physics.

Simoultaneously, a concept of an utilitarian science resulted in a growing interest in technology . The knowledge of nature associated with the ideas of happiness and progress linked to the science -technology axis, was seen as a means for the explotation of Nature and for improvement of life. New techinical practices developed, in particular, in the military industry, sawing and draining.In 1742, Bento de Moura Portugal (1702-1766), a polymath of Newtonian sympathies, and a member of the Royal Academy, since 1740 , presented to the royal family two steams engines based on these conceived by Savery, in wich he had introduced modifications so they could work independently. His contributions won words of praise the british engenier John Smeaton, who published a paper in the philosophical transactions entitled “ An Engine for Raising Water by Fire;being an improvement on Savery's construction to rend it capable of working by itself, invented by Mr. De Moura Portugal.

The very defenition of the object of engineering,as a field in wich science and techonology interact, attracted special attention from intellectual ellit as the work by Manuel Azevedo Fortes, O Engenheiro Portuguez (the portuguese engenier ) epitomizes. In this book, the concept of engineering is genuinely modern in as much as Fortes rejected the treatment of engineering as merely practical knowledge.

                 

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