Criticisms made against Desargues

The publishers Melchior Tavernier and Francois l'Anglois attacked Girard Desargues by publishing a collection of articles criticising his work in Advis charitables sur les diverses oeuvres et feuilles volantes du Sieur Girard Desargues, Lyonnois (1642.. In Girard Desargues, The architectural and perspective geometry: A study in the rationalisation of figure (1983. Mark Schneider writes about Advis charitables.

Criticisms made against Desargues in 'Advis charitables'

None of the criticisms in the Advis charitables bring to light theoretical defects in Desargues' methods, and it would be pointless to dwell on them at any length, were it not for the fact that they do show, if only indirectly, how the public might react to a person who at one and the same time appeared to deny the value of a scholastic education and also proposed to tell artists and craftsmen how to solve their geometrical problems without being himself skilled in any of the arts and crafts. In examining these criticisms, one begins to see how Desargues, in following Mersennes' rejection of metaphysical explanation in favour of experiment and practical techniques, was in fact placing himself in an extremely vulnerable position with respect to his critics. In fact, it would seem that Desargues himself had, at best, a very unclear idea about how to fill this role of self-tutored savant and practical craftsman's assistant which he had identified for himself, at least partly as a result of his relations with Mersenne and Descartes.

In general, the criticisms of the Advis charitables are of following kinds:

  1. Desargues had no skill in any of the arts in which he pretends to give instruction.

  2. Desargues writes in an obscure and convoluted style which cannot be understood by the common workers he proposes to instruct.

  3. Desargues makes pretentious and unsupported claims for the universality of his methods.

  4. Desargues has frequently taken his methods from other sources which he does not credit.

  5. Desargues vainly wishes to be counted among the learned but has no educational credentials which would entitle him to such respect.

  6. The arts and sciences are no easy things to master; therefore, Desargues could not have so quickly devised universal methods for practices in which he has no skill.

  7. Desargues will not be guided either by nature or by the methods of exposition and analysis perfected by the great scholars of earlier times.

  8. Though he pretends to give methods for craftsmen, he insists that they must be judged, not by the craftsmen themselves, but by scholars and geometers who have no practical experience in such matters.

  9. Desarguas' methods are only ideas and, as such, are not adapted to the exigencies of practice.

Last Updated September 2020