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Title:Voltaire's Attitude Toward Geology
Author(s):Carozzi, Marguerite
Department / Program:French
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):History of Science
Abstract:Voltaire's geological observations in some of his essays, in particular the Disseration sur les changements arrives dans notre globe et sur les petrifications qu'on pretend en etre encore les temoignages (1746) and Les Singularites de la nature (1768), have not been analyzed. This study describes some of the generally accepted ideas on the origin of fossils and on mountain-building in the eighteenth century and explains Voltaire's reaction to these ideas, both in the context of his time and in the light of modern geology. He produced independent evidence that in the neighborhood of his residence at Ferney, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, fossils were of freshwater origin and that the Alps had not been shaped by the sea. Furthermore, he examined fossil shells in the faluns of Touraine which, at the time, were accepted as the most important evidence of the past presence of the sea in France and declared that these faluns were a terrestrial deposit. In regard to both areas, namely the Chattian freshwater molasse at Ferney, and some Miocene faluns in Touraine, Voltaire's investigation has proven correct by modern geology. Nevertheless, his contemporaries unjustly failed to consider his judgment of great importance and modern critics of Voltaire are equally unfair in concluding that prejudice and religious beliefs, not scientific truth influenced him. Voltaire rejected the generally received theory of a marine origin of fossils and mountains, in particular in his later works, because none of his contemporaries was able to explain how mountains such as the Alps had risen from below sea-level to their present height, nor could they distinguish marine from freshwater fossils: any fossil shell found inland was generally accepted as evidence for the theory that the sea had covered these lands. Voltaire's attitude toward geology is one of caution: he asked scientists merely to describe what they had seen, touched, and smelled without allowing any flight of imagination to influence their conclusions.
Issue Date:1982
Description:258 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8218442
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-16
Date Deposited:1982

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