“Space and time are what man proposes to measure; the one circumscribes his momentary existence; the other accompanies his successive existence. These two expanses are linked by a necessary relation which is motion. As soon as it is constant and uniform, space is known by time, time is measured by space. As we have said, man does not have constancy and uniformity in him: differently modified at each moment, he is changeable, uneven, and too little durable to be the measure of duration”.
– Germain S. (1879) Œuvres philosophiques de Sophie Germain suivies de Pensées et de lettres inédites, Librairie-Éditeur, Paul Ritti, reprinted by Elibron Classics series, 2006, Paris. (translation by Jil Muller)
Marie- Sophie Germain came from the liberal educated middle class and was financially dependent on her family until the end of her life. She did not marry and her scientific achievements did not give her a position in society. For Germain, the significance of new scientific knowledge was in its value for science. Self-taught, she learned Latin for understanding Newton‘s and Euler‘s works. Under restricted conditions, she followed Lagrange‘s lectures on analysis and sent him her elaborations under a male alias. After Lagrange wanted to meet the author of the mathematical elaborations personally, her true identity became known to the public as a sensation. Nevertheless, her isolation remained and Germain never became part of the public scientific community during her life. As a woman, she was denied admission to the parisian academy and first she was also denied participation in public meetings. In addition to mathematics, she dealt with philosophical questions. In her scientific-theoretical essay Considérations générales sur l’état des sciences et des lettres aux différentes époques de leur culture, she highlights the conviction of a similar way of thinking in the natural sciences and the humanities.
Interest aroused? More information about Germain and many other female philosophers and scientists can be found in our Directory. It gives an overview of women philosophers and scientists from approx. 2300 BCE to the 21st century. Currently, there are more than 280 names of women philosophers listed and the entries will be periodically updated with biographical information and sources for further research.
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