Pitt Establishes A.W. Mellon Distinguished Lectures Series to Promote the History and Philosophy of Science

Issue Date: 
October 22, 2012

How an Italian philosopher popularized Isaac Newton’s scientific theories across the European continent will be the subject of the inaugural installment in the A. W. Mellon Distinguished Lectures in the History of Science, a free public lecture series established by the University of Pittsburgh to develop understanding of, and publishing in, the field of the history and philosophy of science. The biannual lectures, presented on the Pitt campus, will serve as wellsprings for books to be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

The series’ first speaker is Paula Findlen, the Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History at Stanford University, who will present her series of free lectures, “Newton’s Shadow: Francesco Algarotti and the Passion for Science in the Eighteenth Century,” Oct. 22-25. Francesco Algarotti—an Italian philosopher, poet, and essayist—was one of the first advocates for Newtonianism, a doctrine expounding the theories and methods of natural philosopher Isaac Newton. His texts, which aimed to spread Newton’s theories throughout Europe, have been widely studied by history of science researchers to better understand science “before it was science.”

“Our selection committee quickly settled on Paula Findlen as our inaugural lecturer,” said James Lennox, professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. “Known for integrating the history of science within the wider currents of European culture (its literature, art, philosophy, religion), especially in Italy, her dynamic lectures speak to audiences, bridging the alleged gap between the sciences and humanities. These three lectures will give us a sense of the passion for science in the Enlightenment—of what it was like to live ‘in the shadow of Newton.’”

The dates and times of the lectures follow.

Oct. 22, 5 p.m. “Newton’s Prisms: Why Francesco Algarotti Became an Experimental Philosopher,” Center for Philosophy of Science, Room 817 Cathedral of Learning.

Oct. 24, 5 p.m. “Writing A Scientific Bestseller: The Making of Newtonianism for Ladies,” Center for Philosophy of Science, Room 817 Cathedral of Learning.

Oct. 25, 5 p.m. “Science in the Mirror of Enlightenment Europe: Francesco Algarotti, a Newtonian on the Grand Tour,” Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. A reception will follow. The Distinguished Lectures series is supported by the A.W. Mellon Foundation and organized by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pitt’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science, and the University’s World History Center.