Maignan, Emanuel

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(b. Toulouse, France, 17 July 1601[?]; d. Toulouse, 29 October 1676)


Born of a prominent Armagnac family, Maignan spent his boyhood in Toulouse and entered the order of Minims at an early age, taking his vows in 1619. He first studied philosophy with an Aristotelian named Ruffat but soon rebelled against the Peripatetic system, showing a strong interest and aptitude for mathematical studies. He taught philosophy and theology at the Minim convent of Monte Pincio in Rome from 1636 to 1650, during which time he became interested in the experimental approach to knowledge, coming into contact with Gasparo Berti, Raffaello Magiotti, and Athanasius Kircher. In this group he participated in the important experiments which helped to establish the possibility of artificially creating a void space in nature and which influenced the work of Torricelli and others. His Cursus philosophicus (1653), of which more than four-fifths is devoted to natural philosophy, provides one of the fullest accounts of these researches. In 1650 he returned to Toulouse, where he spent most of the remainder of his life. There he continued his experimental work but devoted much of his energy to the administrative and religious work of his order.

Once described by Pierre Bayle as “one of the greatest philosophers of the seventeenth century,” Maignan has largely been forgotten, although he was an original and individualistic thinker of no small merit. His work in optics, instrument making and design, and various branches of physics is in need of reevaluation. His Perspectiva horaria (1648) is an extremely detailed and almost exhaustive discussion of sundials, both from a practical and from a theoretical point of view. In this work many optical topics such as sciagraphy are also treated.

Maignan is responsible for introducing a strongly experimental emphasis into the scholastic textbook, turning aside from the bookish Aristotelian tradition, while at the same time remaining critical of Descartes and other contemporary authors. His work, perhaps as well as any of the seventeenth century, shows the marked influence of experimentalism on scholastic thought. After Maignan’s death a systematic textbook of his teachings meant for use in the schools was prepared by his follower and biographer, Jean Saguens (Philosophia Magnani scholastica…, 4 vols. [Toulouse, 1703]).


I. Original Works. Maignan’s most important works are Perspectiva horaria sive de horographia gnomonica tum theoretica tum pratica libri quatuor (Rome, 1648); Cursus philosophicus (Toulouse, 1653; 2nd ed., enl., Lyons, 1673); Philosophia sacra, 2 pts. (Toulouse, 1661-Lyons, 1672). For more complete lists see Whitmore, listed below; and the catalog of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, CIII, 786–787.

II. Secondary Literature. The basic work on Maignan’s life is apparently J. Saguens, De vitaEmanuel Maignani (Toulouse, 1703), not seen. See also (listed chronologically) Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique, X (Paris, 1820), 125–133; F. Sander, Die Auffassung des Raumes bei Emanuel Maignan und Johannes Baptiste Morin (Paderborn, 1934); C. de Waard, L’experience barométrique (Thouars, 1936), passim; R. Ceñal, “Emmanuel Maignan: su vida, su obra, su influencia,” in Revista de estudios politicos (Madrid), no. 66 (1952), 111– 149; and “LA filosofia de Emmanuel Maignan,” in Revista de filosofia (Madrid), 13 (1954), 15–68; J. S. Spink, French Free-Thought from Gassendi to Voltaire (London, 1960), 75–84; W. E. K. Middleton,The History of the Barometer (Baltimore, 1964), passim; and P. J. S. Whitmore, The Order of Minims in Seventeenth-Century France (The Hague, 1967), 163–186, with additional bibliography, including MSS sources.

Charles B. Schmitt