Introduction to the Critical Online Edition of Du Châtelet’s Chapter Five

I. Versions and variants

Since the Paris manuscript BNF Fr. 12265 reveals many revision stages, it was crucial for the editors to make explicit the main stages of revision in structure and content made by Émilie Du Châtelet, through establishing them as textual versions on their own, rather than placing them in the variant apparatus. On the one hand, this makes it easier for the reader to perceive the differences by presenting the versions as distinct texts, so that the reader does not need to reconstruct all revision stages from the entries in the variant apparatus, which at times is quite a complicated task. On the other hand, in order to analyze the differences between the revision stages in detail, the reader needs to compare the online edited versions by arranging them in separate windows on the screen or display. This might be demanding at times, yet it is still easier than reconstructing all revision stages from the variant apparatus.

However, in order to make the comparison between the distinct versions easier, we decided to offer, in these introductory notes, a survey of some striking differences between the versions. We continue to provide a variant apparatus, however, representing the finer-grained revisions made by Émilie Du Châtelet.

By consequently establishing versions as texts on their own, and as distinguished by the amount of changes in structure and content, we also establish revision stages as variants which might only consist of one word being changed.

We can count seven revision stages: four handwritten stages (sigla A to D) and three printed ones (sigla E to G).

Of the four handwritten revision stages, we decided to establish the second draft and the final revision stage as main texts (versions B and D). The first and third drafts are accessible, respectively, in the variant apparatus of versions B and D.

In addition to the manuscript drafts, we also include the 1740 Paris printed version as a complete text (version F). Moreover, the variant apparatus to this version documents differences with the printed proofsheets sent to the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia in spring 1740 (siglum E), as well as with the revised 1742 Amsterdam printed version (siglum G).

A = VARIANT DOCUMENTED IN THE VARIANT APPARATUS OF VERSION B Émilie Du Châtelet: Institutions de physique, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 12265, 102r-113v
B = MAIN TEXT = VERSION Émilie Du Châtelet: Institutions de physique, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 12265, 102r-113v
C = VARIANT DOCUMENTED IN THE VARIANT APPARATUS OF VERSION D Émilie Du Châtelet: Institutions de physique, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 12265, 102r-113v
D = MAIN TEXT = VERSION Émilie Du Châtelet: Institutions de physique, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 12265, 102r-113v
E = VARIANT DOCUMENTED IN THE VARIANT APPARATUS OF VERSION F Du Châtelet: Institutions de physique, Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Mv 4645 (proofsheets Paris 1740), 90-112
F = MAIN TEXT = VERSION Du Châtelet: Institutions de physique, Paris: Prault, 1740, 90-112
G = VARIANT DOCUMENTED IN THE VARIANT APPARATUS OF VERSION F Du Châtelet: Institutions physiques, Amsterdam: Depens de la compagnie, 1742, 94-117

II. Short survey of the versions B and D, and of the variants A, C, E, and G

B is the first complete draft of the chapter. (Note that the first section number (LXII) is not from Du Châtelet’s hand and is incorrect: it should read LXXII.) Minor revisions are added in C, and more major revisions (including restructurings of the text) appear in version D. Version D is, in turn, closely followed in the first published version F. The Amsterdam 1742 printed edition of Chapter Five contains only relatively small changes from version F.

III. A few significant differences between the versions D and F, also including the variants

Instead of giving a full account of the differences between the edited versions and the variants documented in the variant apparatus of D and F, we highlight a few changes that were made by Émilie Du Châtelet, so that the reader may get an idea of their possible impact. As editors we will not, however, provide interpretations of the changes Du Châtelet made.

But what kind of differences do we find in the two edited versions of Chapter Five, including their variants?

One important area of revision is Du Châtelet’s synopsis of the positions of Locke, Newton, and Keill in section LXXIII. She takes these authors to countenance absolute space and a void without matter. The brief discussion in version B is expanded in version D, now specifically targeting the voluntarist view that God might contingently make some parts of a pre-existing space, but not others. The published version F lengthens the discussion still more, adding arguments that target atomism (the idea being that these arguments will have force against the assumption of absolute space). But during the revision stage from D to F, she not only adds content but also weakens some of her language: whereas absolute space is said to entail contradiction in version D (104r), the 1740 text weakens this to the more ambiguous absurdity (95). Indeed, what’s at issue are untoward theological consequences of absolute space—which she thinks threatens to make absolute space identical with God—rather than contradictions within the theory of absolute space itself.

Another interesting revision appears at the end of section LXXVII. Having traced the origins of the idea of extension to unity and diversity, Du Châtelet now diagnoses an error made by materialist philosophers. They inferred, from the fact that the "soul" exhibits both unity and diversity, and that unity and diversity are also characteristic of extended things, that the soul is extended. In version B, her response simply appeals to the fact that anything extended has parts outside one another (whereas the soul lacks this property). A possible problem with this response is that the property of having parts outside one another, unless it is further disambiguated, may just presuppose the property of being extended. So the response would just amount to asserting that the soul is non-extended, which is precisely the point of contention. A marginal note in her hand signals that she aims to expand on this reasoning: it reads "mettre la, la raison." Indeed, an important sentence is added to this passage in version D, at which point the marginal note is canceled out. In this later version, she puts the point in terms that do not presuppose space. Rather, she appeals to metaphysical separability to distinguish between two cases of unity in diversity. In extended things, there is unity in diversity and the diverse parts are separable from the whole; in the soul, there is also unity in diversity, but the diverse faculties are not separable from the soul as substance: the soul's attributes and its modes "sont inseparables del’etre quils modifient et font un avec lui" (105v). So she now has an objection to the materialist’s inference that does not simply assert that the soul is non-extended.

IV. Note on the technical and editorial presentation of the edition

As for the technical presentation, there are still changes to come. The design and structure as well as the information implemented in the XML files will be refined. Due to the work required to program all these refinements, it will take some time until the final edition can be presented online.

For now, we show a preliminary version, a work in progress, which is the basis for all future refinements.

Also still lacking is the commentary on the texts. The editors’ work on the commentary is part of a broader research project which is yet to be done.