Jean le Rond d'Alembert

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Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert (16 November 1717 – 29 October 1783) was a French mathematician, mechanician, physicist, philosopher, and music theorist. He was also co-editor with Denis Diderot of the Encyclopédie. D'Alembert's method for the wave equation is named after him.



Born in Paris, d'Alembert was the illegitimate child of the writer Claudine Guérin de Tencin and the chevalier Louis-Camus Destouches, an artillery officer. Destouches was abroad at the time of d'Alembert's birth, and a couple of days after birth his mother left him on the steps of the Saint-Jean-le-Rond de Paris church. According to custom, he was named after the patron saint of the church. D'Alembert was placed in an orphanage for found children, but was soon adopted by the wife of a glazier. Destouches secretly paid for the education of Jean le Rond, but did not want his paternity officially recognized.

Studies and adult life

D'Alembert first attended a private school. The chevalier Destouches left d'Alembert an annuity of 1200 livres on his death in 1726. Under the influence of the Destouches family, at the age of twelve d'Alembert entered the Jansenist Collège des Quatre-Nations (the institution was also known under the name "Collège Mazarin"). Here he studied philosophy, law, and the arts, graduating as bachelier in 1735. In his later life, D'Alembert scorned the Cartesian principles he had been taught by the Jansenists: "physical promotion, innate ideas and the vortices".

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