Was Pierre Duhem an Esprit de finesse?

Víctor Manuel Hernández


Although Pierre Duhem is well known for his conventionalist outlook and, in particular, for his critique of crucial experiments outlined in his thesis on the empirical indeterminacy of theory, he also contributed to the scholarship on the psychological profiles of scientists by revising Pascal’s famous distinction between the subtle mind and the geometric mind (esprits fins and esprits géométriques). For Duhem, the ideal scientist is the one who combines the defining qualities of both types of intellect. As a physicist, Duhem made important theoretical contributions to the field of thermodynamics as well as to the then-nascent physical chemistry. Due to his rejection of atomism and his unrelenting critique of Maxwell’s electrodynamics, however, in his later years, Duhem’s work was surpassed and abandoned by the dominant tendencies of physics of the time. In this essay, I will discuss whether Duhem himself can be understood through the lens of his own account of the scientist’s psychological profile. More specifically, I examine whether the subtle mind – to which he seems to assign greater cognitive value – in fact plays a key role in Duhem’s critique of the English School (école anglaise), or if his preference for the axiomatic structure of theoretical physics shows a greater affinity with the geometric mind.


french philosophy of science

Full Text:


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24117/2526-2270.2017.i2.09


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017 Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science

ISSN: 2526-2270

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Connect with us



Indexing and Abstracting

Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science is indexed and abstracted in the following directories and databases: