Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Ecole polytechnique (France); Science--History--France


The purpose of this study is to show that the aims and character of the initial organization of the École polytechnique reflect the aspects of Jacobin political ideology. Secondly, the study proposes to demonstrate how the conflict over means of creating the good society and the tensions between science and Jacobin equalitarianism were worked out in the École polytechnique. The method used will be a discussion of Jacobin ideals, currents of reformism, and the dichotomy between applied science and theoretical science followed by a general description of the founding of the École polytechnique and its organizational structure and policies. The conclusion will venture to analyze the organizational aspects in relation to a composite Jacobin frame of reference. The École polytechnique reflected the Jacobin ideals of centralization, equality, and civisme. The foundation of the school was part of the Jacobin urge to centralize. The ideal of equality which it embodied was the liberal ideal of opportunity open to talent rather than the more radical egalitarianism of Rousseau. The equation of public utility and morality was also a tradition derived from the Encyclopedists and Condorcet. The equalization of opportunity and the ideal of utilization of talent for the public benefit was combined to resolve the antagonism between elitism and equality. The École polytechnique drew on three eighteenth-century educational tradition. Montesquieu contributed the emphasis on the need of education in a Republic. Rousseau's method to achieve the sentiment of civic duty and devotion to the Republic were formalized at the École in the provisions made for living accommodations and ritual. However, in the great emphasis on science and technology, the École was indebted to Diderot and Condorecet. The École polytechnique similarly drew on several traditions in science. Although the main one was Cartesianism, the École was by no means anti-Newtonian scientific establishment. Chemistry and physics taught were influenced by Newtonian science. The concept of unity of science allowed the École polytechnique to pursue the aim of progress of society through technology while at the same time to aim at the advancement of pure science. In short, Newtonian science was sumperimposed on the Cartesian to the advantage of both social and scientific progress.


Includes bibliographical references.||Much text very faint.


2, 96 pages




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