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Manuscripts as Pedagogical Tools in the Philosophy Teaching of Jean-Robert Chouet (1642–1731)

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Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM,volume 61)


This chapter analyzes how the physics courses of Jean-Robert Chouet (1642–1731) changed across the twenty years of his career as a professor of philosophy, first at the Academy of Saumur (starting in 1664) then at the Academy of Geneva (1669–86). We compare eight surviving student manuscripts, noting much continuity but also some changes in organization, presentation, and content (in particular a greater attention to the topics of place and extension important to Cartesianism). Teaching by dictating a coursebook to students allowed the professor to adjust his course at every iteration. The students also exercised individual choice in the format, layout, and trappings of their manuscript coursebook, which could include an alphabetical index or decorative elements. The most famous of Chouet’s students whose coursebooks survive is Nicolas Fatio de Duillier (1664–1753), who was later a friend of Newton’s. He studied philosophy with Chouet in 1678–80 and his coursebook, which unfortunately does not include the section on physics, is exceptionally beautifully kept and illustrated.


  • Student manuscripts
  • Physics courses
  • Academy of Geneva
  • Academy of Saumur
  • Jean-Robert Chouet
  • Nicolas Fatio de Duillier

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  1. 1.

    For recent work on manuscripts in the age of print see Hall 2008; Yale 2016; Blair 2015; for functions of manuscripts in the context of higher education see Goeing 2017, 79–89 (“School regulations as scribal publication”).

  2. 2.

    Jacob Schmutz has undertaken the first bibliography dedicated to student manuscripts in early modern France which is currently in progress. See also his study of 176 manuscripts surviving from the teaching at the Convent of the Cordeliers in Schmutz 2008, especially 395ff and appendix 1.

  3. 3.

    On student course books see Leonhardt 2008; Blair 2008; and the literature cited there. For a case study of lecture scripts put into print see Goeing 2007. There is also a growing literature on student notes entered as commentary on printed texts, notably in the collèges of the University of Paris in the late sixteenth century, which we will not address here. For an entry into this field see Compère et al. 2009; Couzinet and Mandosio 2004; Blair 1991; Grafton 1981.

  4. 4.

    We are very grateful for the existing scholarship on Chouet notably the crucial work of Heyd 1973, 1982, Sina 2008, 2010, each of which cites further bibliography (see especially Heyd 1983, 19). On Heyd’s career see Heyd 2020. On Chouet’s nomination in Saumur see Fatio 2015, 130; and on Chouet’s nomination in Geneva see Fatio 2015, 202, 205–208. For literature on the Genevan Academy see Goeing 2021.

  5. 5.

    Heyd 1982, ch. 2, e.g. 86; for this general strategy in Geneva see 165ff. On Chouet’s evolution from rationalism to voluntarism see Heyd 1979, 532, 535, 541. On the greater liberalism of the environment in Saumur, see Fatio 2015, 48ff. But Chouet discusses theological questions in his correspondence; see Sina 2008.

  6. 6.

    From his studies with David Derodon in Nîmes and Kaspar Wyss in Geneva we have a set of theses explictly authored by Chouet, see Chouet 1662.

  7. 7.

    Budé 1899, 238ff.; Borgeaud 1900, appendix, 636; Santschi 2005; Sina 2010, vol. 1, XIII-L; Fatio 2015, 130, 765, 799, 816.

  8. 8.

    On the role of scholarch see Borgeaud 1900, 148–152.

  9. 9.

    Heyd 1982, 178–89.

  10. 10.

    A student from Saumur, Timotheus Rovierus, published Theses ex universa philosophia selectae (Chouet and Rovierus 1667). Heyd lists ten theses presided by Chouet in Geneva, Heyd 1982, 292. Sina also notes a thesis defended by Chouet in 1661 under the direction of Wyss in Geneva, Disputationum physicarum nona: Chouet 2010, vol. 1, XXXV and Sina 2008, XX note 26 (Wyss and Chouet 1661). See also Stelling-Michaud 1959, vol. 2, 506 for a De motu (Geneva, 1659).

  11. 11.

    Chouet’s courses were in one case at least explicated in a private setting by a recent convert (François Deschamps) who was accused of tendentious conclusions—the fear of which motivated regulations forbidding unauthorized private teaching; Heyd 1982, 167–69.

  12. 12.

    Heyd 1982, 51.

  13. 13.

    On student note-taking at Geneva see Blair 2012 (including two images from Bibliothèque de Genève (BGE) Ms Lat. 322, 50–51). For various French examples see Schmutz (note 3); Blair 1993; on Adrien Geffroy’s course in 1731–33 in Paris: Firode 2008.

  14. 14.

    For detailed descriptions of course scripts by these professors (among others) at BGE with “Ms Lat.” call numbers see the invaluable Jeger 2016. On Chouet’s successors see Dufour 2014, “Gautier, Jean-Antoine;” Fatio 2014, “Léger, Antoine”; and Galiffe 1884, vol. 6, 311–12 (Gautier), vol. 2, 390 (on Léger’s marriage). On the succession to Léger and Gautier, see Heyd 1982, 189–97.

  15. 15.

    See for example Lacki 2007, 233; for the constraints on his ability to create a bridge between the school and the larger intellectual context, see Heyd 1982, 104, 114.

  16. 16.

    For Wyss’s autograph manuscripts see Zurich Zentralbibliothek Ms D184–185 and Car X 162 as reported in Gagliardi and Forrer 1982, 430, no. 1629. On Derodon’s metaphysics, see Ragni 2020.

  17. 17.

    On Wyss’s teaching see Sina 2010, XXVI-LVII. Among the sources are Kaspar Wyss, Logica quae est cursus pars prima (Geneva: de Tournes, 1668) and Physica quae est cursus pars secunda (Geneva: de Tournes, 1669). Wyss published a number of theses with students in Geneva–the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek owns eighteen such ranging from 1656 to 1668, but also before his move to Geneva a Dialectologia Sacra (Zurich: Johann Jakob Bodmer, 1650). See Marti-Weissenbach 2012.

  18. 18.

    Jean-Cécile Frey published some of his courses during his lifetime; see Blair (1993). The courses of the French Franciscan Claude Frassen were published in his lifetime as part of a concerted effort by his order to promote teaching of their favorite Doctor of the Church, John Duns Scotus, as opposed to the Jesuits and Dominicans who favored Thomas Aquinas. Schmutz 2008, 388–89.

  19. 19.

    For surviving autographs see the cases of Wyss (note 17), Frey (Blair 1993, 96, 158), Frassen (Schmutz 2008, 432–33)—in the latter two of which the autographs were annotated for publication although Frey’s were never published and Frassen’s were.

  20. 20.

    “Hoc autem scire juvabit, hunc Ramo nostro morem fuisse, ut de re qualibet, vel Gorgiae in modum thesi posita dicturo sufficerent notae breves, quas in chartula gerebat, et obliquis oculis dicendo inspectabat.” “Reversus domum, ex more, praelecta sibi aut enuntiata Tachugraphois exscribebat.” Sharratt 1975, 194–95, 190–91.

  21. 21.

    For examples of manuscripts copying commonplace headings from printed books see Blair 2010, 246.

  22. 22.

    On efforts to preserve manuscripts, both of the “finished” and less finished variety, see Keller et al. 2018.

  23. 23.

    Brockliss 1987, 187. The quadripartite course typical of French universities was not always the norm elsewhere; ethics for example was not taught in Italian and Spanish Scotist curricula, see Schmutz 2008, 399–400.

  24. 24.

    Two ethical theses appear in Chouet’s Theses ex Vniversa Philosophia selectae (Saumur, 1667), reproduced in fascimile in Sina 2010, vol. 1, XCIX- C. Another Geneva manuscript comprises a metaphysics by Chouet and an ethics taught by a different professor: “Ethica dictata a Clarissimo viro Domino Vincentio Minutolio in inclyta Geneuensium Academia Professore 1685”; Archives Turrettini, Ms. L. 2. (Pars II, 1–93) as discussed in Sina 2010, vol. I, CIV. By contrast Chouet’s successor Antoine Léger did teach ethics; see BGE Ms. Lat 225 for a surviving script from his ethics course, which features a lovely floral decoration of the course title reproduced in Fig. 7.1. For some discussion of Chouet’s metaphysics, see Ragni 2020, 71–77.

  25. 25.

    Geneva was allied with the Swiss Confederation as early as the fifteenth century but did not join it until 1815. On the history of the Academy, see Borgeaud 1900; Magnin and Muller 2012; Lacki 2007 provides some images of the buildings there that date back to the sixteenth century.

  26. 26.

    See for example Feldhay and Heyd 1989; Klauber 1998.

  27. 27.

    BGE Ms Lat. 322 (Morel de la Pize) starts with logic and metaphysics and BGE Ms Lat. 323 (Abraham de Livron) with metaphysics. Then both include, after the Compendium physicae and the Syntagma physicum these two shorter texts: Brevis introductio ad doctrinam de corporibus viventibus sive animatis, Sphaerae artificialis seu armillaris brevis explicatio; in addition Ms Lat. 323 further adds a De magnete. We have not examined the Compendium, except in the unusual Yale manuscript; the Compendium in the Geneva manuscripts is reprinted in Sina 2008, 463–75; followed by the Brevis introductio ad doctrinam de corporibus viventibus sive animatis, 476–84.

  28. 28.

    Chouet 2010, vol. 2. The edition is based on BGE Ms Lat. 322 and 323 described above, along with BGE Ms Lat. 292, containing a complete Syntagma Physicum, and BGE Ms Jallabert 37 containing part of the Syntagma Physicum starting at the chapter “De calore et frigore” (for comparison that chapter is located at folio 177 of 505 folios in BGE Ms Lat. 292). The three Ms. Lat. call numbers are described in detail in Jeger 2016, 1256–60 (Ms Lat. 292), 1390–98 (Ms Lat. 322), 1399–1406 (Ms Lat. 323); the library in Geneva has no detailed description of Ms Jallabert 37.

  29. 29.

    Paul Morel de la Pize was a French refugee from Cheylard, in Ardèche, who was around 19 years old in 1678, though he does not figure in the lists of students at the Academy (which were not rigorously kept). From 1706 until 1712, he was minister without a parish at La Neuveville in the Jura. See Anonymous 1870–71, 312, and Arnaud 1979, I, 615. We are grateful to Max Engammare for these references. See also Germiquet 1889, 43.

  30. 30.

    Stelling-Michaud 1959, vol. 4, 348.

  31. 31.

    “A D.o Chouëto, Philosophiae Professore in Publico Geneuensi Lycaeo Dictata. et ab Abrahamo De Liuron Diligenter Excepta.” On the meanings of “excipio” see Lewis and Short 1879, sense B.2.a. For comparison “excepit” also appears in the Karlsruhe manuscript discussed below, while Morel de la Pize and the writers of the Houghton and Yale manuscripts used forms of “scribere” (to write) or “perscribere” (to write in full) to describe their work.

  32. 32.

    Chouet 2010, vol 2, 21, 133.

  33. 33.

    On medieval Paris see Hajnal 1959, 117–23; on the long history of the practice of dictation see Waquet 2003, 75.

  34. 34.

    Chouet 2010, vol. 2, 110.

  35. 35.

    Chouet 2010, vol. 2, 37 (inversion of subchapters), 66, 147.

  36. 36.

    Belloni 1986, 63–106. See also Goeing 2016.

  37. 37.

    Francesco Sacchini’s manual on note-taking which included the advice to copy notes over twice originated in a Jesuit context, but its translation into French in 1786 was dedicated to the Geneva pastor and professor of theology David Claparède (1727–1801), which suggests that the book was expected to be well received there; see Sacchini 1786. For some discussion of Sacchini see Blair 2010, ch. 2, 70.

  38. 38.

    In one Chouet manuscript containing his logic and metaphysics three addenda appear at the end to be inserted in specified places in the text, which suggests that Chouet himself issued them. Chouet, Syntagma logicum, BGE Ms Lat. 220. See Jeger 2016, 924. This manuscript from 1673 to 1674 is attributed to the student Jean Le Clerc (1657–1736) who became professor of philosophy in Rotterdam then Amsterdam. On Chouet’s later correspondence with Le Clerc see Heyd 1982 , 78ff.

  39. 39.

    For background on the topics we mention, see Garber and Ayers 1998, especially Ariew and Gabbey 1998; Garber et al. 1998; Gabbey 1998.

  40. 40.

    “Dictati A Domino Domino Johanne Roberto Choueto in Academia Salmuriensi Philosophia Professore et a me Jacobo Normandio conscripsit Anno Domini 1667 Soli Deo gloria.” Chouet, Cursus Physicus, Wellcome Library (London), Ms 1633, 333.

  41. 41.

    Jacob’s father Michel de Normandie was a member of the Petit Conseil. Michel had married in 1662 as his second wife Théodora Tronchin, the sister of Louis Tronchin and mother of Jean-Robert Chouet, so Jacob was a half-brother of Chouet. See Fatio 2015, 164n1.

  42. 42.

    Heyd 1982 discusses de Normandie’s calls for reform without noting that he was a student of Chouet, 178–80, 211. Stelling-Michaud 1959, vol. 5, 32; and Sandys 1901, 108.

  43. 43.

    Chouet 1684 (Karlsruhe). Niebler 1969, 38–39 reports the provenance of this manuscript from St Peter monastery in Freiburg, Germany. Niebler explains that the St Peter library burnt down in 1644 and 1678, and was sacked in 1713 by French troops in the War of Spanish Succession. St Peter acquired many parchment and paper manuscripts to compensate for these losses, ranging from medieval manuscripts to works of enlightenment science (Niebler 1969, XI-XII). The paper manuscripts were bought mostly in the second half of the eighteenth century, and we suppose that St Peter acquired the Chouet manuscript during this time (Niebler 1969, XV-XVI). On Franconis who went on to become a minister, see Stelling-Michaud 1959, vol. 3, 357.

  44. 44.

    The first part covers physica generalis and runs a bit shorter than the second part (physica specialis).

  45. 45.

    “Opera physica: authore domino Johanni Roberto Chouëto in Acadimiâ Genevinsi Philosophice professore dignissimo” Houghton Library, Ms Lat. 452. The book came to Harvard through the acquisition of George Sarton (1884–1956), professor of history of science there, who mentioned the manuscript in one of his articles. Sarton 1950, 171, fn 32: “…I have a contemporary MS. (292 pages in a good hand) of his ‘Opera physica,’ which as far as I can judge from a few samplings, is very scholastic in tone. According to Bayle himself Chouet made curious experiments; yet, it is clear from his own writings that he could not give his students any concrete idea of the scientific spirit. Bayle did not devote any article to his old teacher in his ‘Dictionnaire,’ but he published an ‘astronomical’ letter of him in the Nouvelles de la R. d. L., March (1685). It was Chouet who introduced Cartesianism in Geneva and was responsible for the considerable increase of Genevese interest in mathematics and physics at the beginning of the eighteenth century. He was more important, however, as a teacher and administrator than as an author.” We are grateful to Alex Csiszar for this reference. On Pierre Bayle’s encounter with Chouet first at Saumur then likely later in Geneva when he served as preceptor for the family of the brother-in-law of Michel de Normandie, see Labrousse 1963, 102. More generally on Bayle and Chouet see Heyd 1982, 53 and ad indicem.

  46. 46.

    Houghton Library Ms Lat. 452, 123, 271.

  47. 47.

    Chouet 1684 (Karlsruhe), 197–223; Houghton Library, Ms Lat. 452, 36–41.

  48. 48.

    Jean-Cecile Frey made a similar choice to discuss the topic without reaching a conclusion, see Blair 1993, 126. On other hand the Franciscan Scotist Claude Frassen flatly rejected Copernicanism, although he noted that it was hard to refute on mathematical or philosophical grounds. See Schmutz 2008, 405–6. On the Catholic reception of Copernicanism, see Blackwell 1991; for an example of the Calvinist reception see Vermij 2002.

  49. 49.

    “Sequitur nunc ut disquireremus an hoc Tychonis systema admitti possit. Verum quoniam diutius iam quam par erat in hisce quae ad caelos spectant immorati fuimus ideo observasse sufficiat illius ope omnia astrorum phaenomena rite explicari atque adeo nihil obstare quominus eo veluti hypothesi quadam utamur. Sed vero an cum veris physicae principiis stare possit, id lectoribus (examinandum) relinquimus.” Chouet 2010, vol. 2, 158–59. Heyd argues that Chouet leaned toward the Copernican hypothesis though he did not adopt it explicitly; this stance also fit into Chouet’s general avoidance of controversy; Heyd 1982, 82, 86.

  50. 50.

    See BGE, Ms Lat. 292 (scribe unknown, undated), 263, 270, 293; see Jeger 2016, 1256–60.

  51. 51.

    See the detailed contents of Ms Lat. 292 in Jeger 2016, 1256–58.

  52. 52.

    Wellcome Ms 1633, 1, 6, 11. Compare with Chouet 2010, vol 2, 269.

  53. 53.

    “Unumquodque corpus ex se tendere ut semper secundum lineam rectam pergat moveri, numquam secundum curvam.” Wellcome Ms 1633, 320. This statement is also written in a larger font, presumably to call attention to it.

  54. 54.

    For Descartes’ laws of motions see Principia Philosophiae, II, section XXXVI, and following in Descartes 1996, VIII, 61ff.

  55. 55.

    Wellcome Ms. 1633, 92; Chouet 2010, vol. 2, 59; Chouet 1684 (Karlsruhe), 183ff. Two minor changes are made in 1679 and Chouet 1684 (Karlsruhe): seu for sive; saepissime for plerumque.

  56. 56.

    “Internus est spatium quod vnumquodque corpus occupat; externus… nihil est aliud praeter corpus quodpiam a quo aliud corpus ambitur.” Wellcome Ms, 92–93.

  57. 57.

    On locus and spatium, see Descartes, Principia Philosophiae, II, section XIV and following, in Descartes 1996, VIII, 47ff.

  58. 58.

    On internal and external place, see Descartes Principia Philosophiae II, section XV, in Descartes 1996, VIII, 48ff

  59. 59.

    Chouet 1684 (Yale ).

  60. 60.

    Agnew 1886, 289; Anonymous 1969, 241–242.

  61. 61.

    Chouet 2010, vol. 2, 59; Chouet 1684 (Yale ), 27–28.

  62. 62.

    See above note 15.

  63. 63.

    The other manuscripts have these heights: Chouet 1684 (Yale ) 17 cm; BGE, Ms Lat. 322, 17.3 cm; Chouet 1684 (Karlsruhe): 18 cm; Houghton: 22 cm; BGE, Ms Lat. 292 23.6 cm.

  64. 64.

    For example: Wellcome 337 pages; BGE, Ms Lat. 322, 294 pages; Chouet 1684 (Karlsruhe) 594 pages; Houghton 292 pages.

  65. 65.

    “Scribebat et audiebat summa cum voluptate Nicolaus Fatio. Annis 1678, 1679, et 1680.” BGE Ms Lat. 221, title page.

  66. 66.

    For a recent and well illustrated article on the tree of Porphyry see Verboon 2014.

  67. 67.

    For example a dispute within Geneva’s Petit Conseil in 1669 over a statement of faith required of professors was resolved so that Chouet did not have to assert “sic sentio” (“this I believe”) and instead only signed “sic docebo…”: “This I will teach and I will not teach anything contrary to it publicly or privately.” See Labrousse 1963, 105–6.

  68. 68.

    For recent work see Iliffe 2012; Mandelbrote 2005 and idem 2018; Recous 2016; Speziali 1997, 21–24. Chouet’s other noteworthy students included Jean Le Clerc (see note 39) and Pierre Bayle (see note 46).

  69. 69.

    Jeger 2016, 932 explains that the surviving volume entered the library in Geneva only in the nineteenth century.



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    Correspondence to Anja-Silvia Goeing .

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    Warm thanks to the librarians who helped us on our visits to Harvard, Yale, and the Salle Sénebier of the Bibliothèque de Genève. We are grateful to the editors of the volume for inviting Ann to contribute to the conference and both of us to the volume, and for their helpful comments.

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    Blair, A., Goeing, AS. (2021). Manuscripts as Pedagogical Tools in the Philosophy Teaching of Jean-Robert Chouet (1642–1731). In: Berger, S., Garber, D. (eds) Teaching Philosophy in Early Modern Europe. Archimedes, vol 61. Springer, Cham.

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