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Parent, Antoine

1. Dates
Born: Paris, 16 Sept. 1666
Died: Paris, 26 Sept. 1716
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 50
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer
His father was an avocat au conseil.
No explicit evidence on the financial status of the family.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Paris, LD
When Parent was three, his maternal uncle, Antoine Mallet, a priest of Bourg, took charge of Parent's education. By the age of thirteen, Parent had developed a fascination with mathematics. At fourteen, Parent continued his education in the house of a friend of his uncle. There he fostered further his taste for mathematics. His parents sent him to Paris to study law. After dutifully completing his education in law (which I interpret to mean a degree), a vocation he meant never to practice, he turned to his cherished study of mathematics. He closed himself up in the Collège de Dormans and ventured out only to attend the lectures of La Hire and Sauveur at the Collège Royal. Sauveur considered Parent a rare genius. I don't know enough about legal education in France in the 17th century, but I take the statement about completing his education in law to mean that he attended the university and had the equivalent of a B.A.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy
Subordinate: Cartography, Mechanics, Chemistry
His best-known and most comprehensive work is Essais et recherches de mathematiques et de physique (1713), a three-volume work compiled from his short lived periodical launched in 1705. He read many papers to the Académie des sciences but few were published in the Mémoires. His most frequent avenues of publication were the Journal des scavans and the Journal de Trevoux. He wrote on astronomy, cartography, chemistry, biology, sensationalist psychology and epistemology, music, practical and abstract mathematics, strength of materials and the effects of friction on motion.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Schoolmastering
Secondary: Government, Patronage
When he felt that he was strong enough in his mathematical knowledge, he took on students. I take this instruction to have been his primary means of support. On account of the war, he found himself teaching mostly about fortifications even though he had never seen them. He expressed this concern to Sauveur who put him in contact with the Marquis d'Alegre. For a short time he accompanied the Marqus d'Alegre on military campaigns, studying fortifications. After his return he devoted his studies to the application of mathematics, both speculative and pratical, to the natural sciences.
From 1699 until his death he was the élève of Gilles Filleau des Billettes in the Académie des Sciences. Parent's failure to advance was due to a lack of clarity in his writing; his antipathy to Cartesian science; and his aggressive, tactless, critical, and uncompromising candor in dealing with his colleagues.
8. Patronage
Type: Aristrocrat
The Marquis above.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Cartography, Military Engineering
Parent wrote on cartography, but there is no specific information on the extent of his technical knowledge of mapmaking. Parent's knowledge of fortifications was based on his practical knowledge of mathematics and not on any specific training in designing fortifications. However, he did accompany the Marquis d'Alegre on compaign.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, 1699-1716
  1. Fontenelle, "Eloge de Parent", in the Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences for 1716.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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