The Galileo Project
site map

Rohault, Jacques

1. Dates
Born: Amiens, c. 1618
Died: Paris, 27 Dec. 1672
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 54
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
His father was a merchant. He also owned land. He was at one time the churchwarden of his parish.
His maternal grandfather was an apothecary of Amiens. His uncle was a doctor of Amiens. His paternal great-grandfather was a squire and conseiller of the baillif of Waben.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Paris, M.A.
He received his early education in Amiens, most likely a scholastic training at the Jesuit college there. He completed his studies in Paris, where he was interested in mechanics and taught himself mathematics. He received his M.A. in 1641.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
His body is buried in St. Mederic church. In 1695, his heart was buried in St. Genevieve next to Descartes.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
As the leading advocate and teacher of Descartes's natural philosophy of the time, his contemporary fame rested on the very popular weekly lectures, 'les mercredis de Rohault', which he held at his house in Paris. His masterwork the Traité de physique (1671) became the era's leading textbook on natural philosophy. The Latin translation of 1674 was used as a university textbook.
The Traité reflects Rohault's explicit view that the explanations of natural philosophy were only probable and were subject to falsification by one counterinstance. Among his most famous experiments were those on the weight of air, and magnetism.
Rohault intended his natural philosophy to introduce Cartesian views as a more complete elaboration of the Aristotelian traditions. He sought to join the Cartesian principles to experimental practice. Despite his call for a more quantitative approach to natural philosophy, he made little use of mathematical arguments to establish his position.
In his last years Rohault was troubled by the political reaction to Cartesianism in France. In his work, Entretiens sur la philosophie (1671), Rohault tried to establish the importance of Cartesian interpretations to theology. Yet, at the time of his death he was considered heretical by some.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Schoolmastering, Government, Patronage
Secondary: Personal Means
He established himself as a private tutor which he continued until his death.
He tutored the children of several prominent families as well as the Dauphin.
Some time in the mid-1650's he began to hold weekly lectures at his house in Paris.
In 1649 he bought the office of "controleur des bois" and married the widow of the former "controleur" the following year. He had to have had some means by which to effect the purchase. A year after the death of his first wife he married the daughter of Claude Clerselier (1664).
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat
In 1670 he obtained a royal privilege for the publication of a collection of treatises on practical subjects, including elementary arithmetic, mechanics, perspective, and military architecture, in addition to a French translation of the first six books of Euclid's Elements. In 1682, Clerselier published this work as Oeuvres posthumes de M. Rohault. I'll leave this information here, but I don't consider this patronage.
Rohault tutored several children from prominent families. Also, he was the tutor of mathematics and philosophy to the Dauphin.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Military Engineering
After some hesitation I list that treatise on military architecture.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
During the 1660's he emerged as the arbiter of Cartesian scientific affairs in Paris. He became an active participant in the Montmor Academy and other circles of leading natural philosophers. In 1665 he recruited Pierre-Sylvain Regis to the Cartesian movement. After several months of instruction in Cartesian science and the arts of conferencier, Regis was sent by him to spread the doctrine in Toulouse. He also organized the ceremonies marking the return of Descartes's remains to Paris from Stockholm in 1667.
  1. Paul Mouy, Le developpement de la physique cartesienne, (Paris, 1934), esp. 108-38. QC7.M9 Pierre Clair, Jacques Rohault 1618-1672, Bio-bibliographie, (Paris, 1978). B1907.R64
  2. "Rohault" in Pierre Costabel and Monette Martinet, Quelques savants et amateurs de science au XVIIe siècle, (Paris, 1986), pp. 89-132. Z7404.C78 1986
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.