Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics

Émilie Du Châtelet

The marquise Du Châtelet, c. 1741. Marianne Loir From the collection of the Château de Breteuil

The Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics is awarded for previously unpublished work in philosophy of physics by a graduate student or junior scholar. The prize celebrates excellence in philosophy of physics, and promotes breadth across the field both historically and philosophically.

Scholars are invited to submit papers on a specified topic via a “Call for Submissions”, and the prize is awarded by a committee of scholars with expertise in the field. Winners receive $1000, an invitation to participate in a workshop on the topic of that year’s prize, and an invitation to have their paper considered for publication in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.

 

The Du Châtelet Prize in Philosophy of Physics is supported by Duke University in collaboration with Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.

About the Prize

“In the spring of 2014, when I was thinking about unsolved problems in the wake of Newton’s Principia, I picked up Du Châtelet’s Foundations of Physics. I was captivated. Du Châtelet writes about the conceptual foundations of physics, where epistemology, metaphysics and physics meet. She is motivated by problems internal to physics, and by the connections these problems have to issues of wider philosophical concern, such as human liberty.”

“As an undergraduate, I did my degree in Physics and Philosophy at King’s College London, and my interests were focused entirely on contemporary questions. As a graduate student in philosophy of physics at Oxford, I began to realize that in order to understand the questions and problems that interested me most, I needed to understand their history: how they came to be questions and problems in the first place, and the way in which what counts as giving an answer changes over time. This coincided with being required to do some history of physics and more history of philosophy, and my love for philosophy of physics as an historically and philosophically situated and evolving project of human enquiry began.”

In addition to celebrating excellence in philosophy of physics, the Du Châtelet Prize promotes breadth, both historically and philosophically, within the field. The Prize thereby aims to further the recognition of the importance of philosophy of physics for history of philosophy, and the importance of history of philosophy for philosophy of physics.

Katherine Brading Professor of Philosophy, Duke University

About Du Châtelet

“Physics is an immense building that surpasses the powers of a single man. Some lay a stone there, while others build whole wings… still others survey the plan of the building, and I among them”

— Du Châtelet, Foundations of Physics

Émilie Du Châtelet (1706-1749) wrote on a range of topics at the intersection of physics and philosophy, including epistemology and method, the nature of matter and of bodies, and the laws of motion.

She intervened in the most pressing foundational debates of the day, such as Newtonian action-at-a-distance. Her work includes essays on fire and on optics, discussions of vis viva, and a translation of and commentary on Newton’s Principia.

For Du Châtelet, her work in physics was closely connected to her interest in human liberty and free will.

The marquise Du Châtelet, c. 1741. French school, eighteenth century From the collection of the Château de Breteuil

Du Châtelet’s principal publication is her Foundations of Physics, first published in 1740, second edition 1742.

This text begins with chapters on the principles of our knowledge; God; essence, attributes and modes; and hypotheses.

 

The next chapters concern space; time; the elements of matter; and the nature and composition of bodies. Chapters 11-15 and 17-19 concern the motions of bodies, including gravitational motion. Chapter 16 discusses Newtonian attraction, and chapters 20-21 concern the force of bodies (both “dead” and “living”).

To learn more about Du Châtelet’s philosophy, go to