Isaac Beeckman

Last updated
Isaac Beeckman
Born10 December 1588
Died19 May 1637
Nationality Dutch
Scientific career
Notable students René Descartes

Isaac Beeckman (10 December 1588 – 19 May 1637) was a Dutch philosopher and scientist, who, through his studies and contact with leading natural philosophers, may have "virtually given birth to modern atomism". [1] [2]

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Philosopher person with an extensive knowledge of philosophy

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.

Scientist person that studies a science

A scientist is someone who conducts scientific research to advance knowledge in an area of interest.



Beeckman was born in Middelburg, Zeeland, to a strong Calvinistic family, which had fled from the Spanish-controlled Southern Netherlands a few years before. He had a strong early education in his home town and went on to study theology, literature and mathematics in Leiden. Upon his return to Middelburg he could not find a position as a minister, due to clashing ideas of his father and the local church, and decided to follow his father in the candle making business, setting up his own company in Zierikzee. [3] While trying to improve on the candle making process, he also involved himself in other projects, like creating water conduits and doing meteorological observations. In 1616 he sold the business to his apprentice and went to study medicine in Caen, where he graduated in 1618. On his return, he became an assistant rector in Utrecht. On April 1620 he married Cateline de Cerf, who he knew from Middelburg, and with whom he would have seven children. From 1620 to 1627 he taught at the Latin school in Rotterdam, where he founded a "Collegium Mechanicum", or Technical College. From 1627 until his death at the age of 48 he was rector of the Latin school in Dordrecht.

Zeeland Province of the Netherlands

Zeeland is the westernmost and least populous province of the Netherlands. The province, located in the south-west of the country, consists of a number of islands and peninsulas and a strip bordering Belgium. Its capital is Middelburg. Its area is about 2,930 square kilometres (1,130 sq mi), of which almost 1,140 square kilometres (440 sq mi) is water, and it has a population of about 380,000.

Southern Netherlands historical region in Belgium

The Southern Netherlands, also called the Catholic Netherlands, was the part of the Low Countries largely controlled by Spain (1556–1714), later Austria (1714–1794), and occupied then annexed by France (1794–1815). The region also included a number of smaller states that were never ruled by Spain or Austria: the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, the Imperial Abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy, the County of Bouillon, the County of Horne and the Princely Abbey of Thorn. The Southern Netherlands were part of the Holy Roman Empire until the whole area was annexed by Revolutionary France.

Leiden City and municipality in South Holland, Netherlands

Leiden is a city and municipality in the province of South Holland, Netherlands. The municipality of Leiden had a population of 123,856 in August 2017, but the city forms one densely connected agglomeration with its suburbs Oegstgeest, Leiderdorp, Voorschoten and Zoeterwoude with 206,647 inhabitants. The Netherlands Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) further includes Katwijk in the agglomeration which makes the total population of the Leiden urban agglomeration 270,879, and in the larger Leiden urban area also Teylingen, Noordwijk, and Noordwijkerhout are included with in total 348,868 inhabitants. Leiden is located on the Oude Rijn, at a distance of some 20 kilometres from The Hague to its south and some 40 km (25 mi) from Amsterdam to its north. The recreational area of the Kaag Lakes (Kagerplassen) lies just to the northeast of Leiden.

Teachers, pupils, and Descartes

Beeckman's most influential teachers in Leiden probably were Snellius and Simon Stevin. He himself was a teacher to Johan de Witt and a teacher and friend of René Descartes. Beeckman had met the young Descartes in November 1618 in Breda, where Beeckman then lived and Descartes was then garrisoned as a soldier. It is said that they met when both were looking at a placard that was set up in the Breda marketplace, detailing a mathematical problem to be solved. Descartes asked Beeckman to translate the problem from Dutch to French. [4] In their following meetings Beeckman interested Descartes in his corpuscularian approach to mechanical theory, and convinced him to devote his studies to a mathematical approach to nature. [2] [4] In 1619, Descartes dedicated one of his first tractati to him, the Compendium Musicae. When Descartes returned to the Dutch Republic in the autumn of 1628, Beeckman also introduced him to many of Galileo's ideas. [2] In 1629 they fell out over a dispute concerning whether Beeckman had helped Descartes with some of his mathematical discoveries. In October 1630, Descartes wrote a long and harshly abusive letter, apparently meant to crush Beeckman psychologically, in which he declared himself never to have been influenced by Beeckman. [5] However, and despite a few other such fallings-outs, they remained in contact until Beeckman's death in 1637.

Rudolph Snellius Dutch linguist and mathematician

Rudolph Snel van Royen, Latinized as Rudolph Snellius, was a Dutch linguist and mathematician who held appointments at the University of Marburg and the University of Leiden. Snellius was an influence on some of the leading political and intellectual forces of the Dutch Golden Age.

Simon Stevin Flemish scientist, mathematician and military engineer

Simon Stevin, sometimes called Stevinus, was a Flemish mathematician, physicist and military engineer. He made various contributions in many areas of science and engineering, both theoretical and practical. He also translated various mathematical terms into Dutch, making it one of the few European languages in which the word for mathematics, wiskunde, was not a loanword from Greek but a calque via Latin.

Johan de Witt Grand Pensionary of Holland

Johan de Witt or Jan de Witt, heer van Zuid- en Noord-Linschoten, Snelrewaard, Hekendorp and IJsselveere was a major figure in Dutch politics in the mid-17th century, when its flourishing sea trade in a period of globalisation made the United Provinces a leading European power during the Dutch Golden Age. De Witt controlled the Netherlands political system from around 1650 until shortly before his death in 1672, working with various factions from nearly all the major cities, especially his hometown, Dordrecht, and the hometown of his wife, Amsterdam.

Work and legacy

Beeckman did not publish his ideas, but he had influenced many scientists of his time. Since the beginning of his studies he did keep an extensive journal ("Journaal" in Dutch), from which his brother published some of his observations in 1644. However, this went basically unnoticed. The scope of Beeckman's ideas did not come to life until the science historian Cornelis de Waard rediscovered the Journaal in 1905, and published it in volumes between 1939 and 1953. [3] [6]

Cornelis de Waard was a Dutch math teacher and a historian who specialized in researching science and mathematics of the seventeenth century.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

Atomic theory

In chemistry and physics, atomic theory is a scientific theory of the nature of matter, which states that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms. It began as a philosophical concept in ancient Greece and entered the scientific mainstream in the early 19th century when discoveries in the field of chemistry showed that matter did indeed behave as if it were made up of atoms.

Inertia is the resistance, of any physical object, to any change in its velocity. This includes changes to the object's speed, or direction of motion.

Vibrating string in fundamental mode, with three different lengths Vibration corde fondamentale trois longueurs petit.gif
Vibrating string in fundamental mode, with three different lengths
Fundamental frequency Lowest frequency of a periodic waveform, such as sound

The fundamental frequency, often referred to simply as the fundamental, is defined as the lowest frequency of a periodic waveform. In music, the fundamental is the musical pitch of a note that is perceived as the lowest partial present. In terms of a superposition of sinusoids, the fundamental frequency is the lowest frequency sinusoidal in the sum. In some contexts, the fundamental is usually abbreviated as f0, indicating the lowest frequency counting from zero. In other contexts, it is more common to abbreviate it as f1, the first harmonic.

Since the fundamental is the lowest frequency and is also perceived as the loudest, the ear identifies it as the specific pitch of the musical tone [harmonic spectrum]....The individual partials are not heard separately but are blended together by the ear into a single tone.

Twine Light string or strong thread

Twine is a light string or strong thread composed of two or more smaller strands or yarns twisted, and then twisted together. More generally, the term can be applied to a cord.

Pump device that moves fluids (liquids or gases) by mechanical action

A pump is a device that moves fluids, or sometimes slurries, by mechanical action. Pumps can be classified into three major groups according to the method they use to move the fluid: direct lift, displacement, and gravity pumps.

In his time, he was considered to be one of the most educated men in Europe. For example, he had deeply impressed Mersenne, despite their opposing religious views, [2] as well as Gassendi, who apparently had been turned by Beeckman to the philosophy of Epicurus (atomism). [2] The latter even proclaimed, in a 1629 letter to Peiresc, that Beeckman was the greatest philosopher he had ever met. [8]

Sources and Literature

  1. H.H. Kubbinga, L’histoire du concept de ‘molécule’, Dordrecht: Springer, (3 vols, Paris 2001-2002)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Harold J. Cook, in The Scientific Revolution in National Context, Roy Porter, Mikuláš Teich, (eds.), Cambridge University Press, 1992, pages 127-129
  3. 1 2 Klaas van Berkel, Isaac Beeckman , biography at the Digital Library of the Royal Netherlands.Academy of Arts and Sciences
  4. 1 2 Stephen Gaukroger. Descartes: An Intellectual Biography. Oxford University Press, 1995, Chapter 3.
  5. Arthur, Richard (2007). "Beeckman, Descartes and the Force of Motion". Journal of the History of Philosophy. 45 (1): 1–28. doi:10.1353/hph.2007.0001.
  6. C. de Waard, Journal tenu par Isaac Beeckman de 1604 à 1634 , The Hague 1939-1953
  7. Author: Christophe Dang Ngoc Chan.
  8. Chikara Sasaki, Descartes's Mathematical Thought, Springer, 2003, page 96


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