This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Jaucourt's Invention

In Encyclopédie, Jaucourt writes the first encyclopedia article on the meaning of “Invention”. Interestingly, though, it does not highlight great inventors. It does not even stress the history or circumstances of most of the greatest inventions of the era. Instead, Jaucourt’s article seems to focus on time not genius. He declares, “ We owe inventions to time, pure chance…” He further relates that the inventions “we possess today…were not found in the state in which we see them now”. Rather, Jaucourt suggests that they were “in rough form or in parts” and, over time, evolved into the invaluable inventions around us.

Yet, Jaucourt does not imply that inventions are strictly the result of time and chance. Rather, they are also the product of “mechanical genius”. According to Jaucourt, this “mechanical genius” or “instinct” is what “nature has endowed some men, independently from philosophy”. Thus, the writer seems to infer that inventions often came neither from the “wits in polite society nor from speculative philosophers”, but from necessity. Hence, man instinctively creates what he needs to survive.

Nonetheless, the perfection of these inventions takes time. As an example, Jaucourt relates, “ Guttenberg only invented moveable characters, carved in relief on wood and on metal. It was Schofer who improved this invention and found the secret of casting these characters.” Clearly, the vast advancement in printing science from Guttenberg’s era to the 21st Century’s Computer Age helps to corroborate Jaucourt’s position that time and evolution is the ultimate source of invention. Still, human “industriousness” is needed to search out matter in its raw and imperfect form and turn it into perfection. That is why Jaucourt writes of the “treasures” earth has provided, “let us always be prepared to take advantage of them” because, as this article repeatedly highlights, it is the only way that inventions “the children of time” can be created.


Blogger BMS307 said...

Jeremiah, I liked the way in which you gave many examples from the article to express your point. You covered Guttenberg and his moveable parts as well as how they were later expanded upon by Schofer in order to produce the printing press. What are your thoughts on how inventors should be credited for their works?

12:13 PM  

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