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The French foundations of Hutton's theory of the Earth; Part two, Hutton's debts to Rouelle

Gregory F. W. Todd
The French foundations of Hutton's theory of the Earth; Part two, Hutton's debts to Rouelle
Earth Sciences History (October 2021) 40 (2): 332-364

Abstract

This contribution, in two parts, addresses a long-standing problem in the history of geology: Was the geological theory of James Hutton derived inductively from observations and scientific knowledge, or was it derived a priori as a speculative system? Hutton's own writings do little to clarify the question, and the conflict in interpretations has remained at an impasse. This contribution proposes to resolve that conflict by focusing on the two years Hutton spent as a young man studying chemistry in Paris. I argue that Hutton studied with one of the great chemistry teachers of the eighteenth century, Guillaume-Francois Rouelle, and that Rouelle's teachings provided the foundations of Hutton's geological theory. Part One of this contribution reviewed evidence that Hutton was a student of Rouelle's, and concluded with a high degree of confidence, but less than certainty, that Hutton did study with Rouelle. In this Part Two, it is argued that Hutton adopted almost all the geological ideas found in Rouelle's lectures. This Part Two also proposes a reconstruction of the development of Hutton's cyclical model of Earth strata, taken as the starting point of his broader theory, to show that it developed from observations and inductions, and his study with Rouelle, and was not developed as an a priori system. That conclusion will require a new interpretation of Hutton's theory, which should now be understood as part of a continuum of geological knowledge developing during the eighteenth century.


ISSN: 0736-623X
EISSN: 1944-6187
Serial Title: Earth Sciences History
Serial Volume: 40
Serial Issue: 2
Title: The French foundations of Hutton's theory of the Earth; Part two, Hutton's debts to Rouelle
Author(s): Todd, Gregory F. W.
Pages: 332-364
Published: 202110
Text Language: English
Publisher: History of the Earth Sciences Society, Troy, NY, United States
References: 119
Accession Number: 2022-058623
Categories: Sedimentary petrology
Document Type: Serial
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. portr.
N42°30'00" - N51°00'00", W05°00'00" - E08°30'00"
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2022, American Geosciences Institute. Reference includes data from GeoScienceWorld, Alexandria, VA, United States
Update Code: 2022
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