Charles Bonnet
Charles Bonnet Swiss
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

Natural history
Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, leaning more towards observational rather than experimental methods of study, and encompasses more research published in magazines than in academic journals. Grouped among the natural sciences, natural history is the systematic study...

 and philosophical writer, was born at Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

, of a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 family driven into Switzerland by the religious persecution
Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms. The inflicting of suffering, harassment, isolation,...

 in the 16th century.

Life and work

Bonnet's life was uneventful. He seems never to have left Switzerland, nor does he appear to have taken any part in public affairs except for the period between 1752 and 1768, during which he was a member of the council of the republic. The last twenty five years of his life he spent quietly in the country, at Genthod
Genthod is a municipality of the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland.-Geography:Genthod has an area, , of . Of this area, or 36.2% is used for agricultural purposes, while or 8.0% is forested. Of the rest of the land, or 53.7% is settled .Of the built up area, housing and buildings made up 44.6%...

, near Geneva, where he died after a long and painful illness on 20 May 1793. His wife was a lady of the family of De la Rive. They had no children, but Madame Bonnet's nephew, the celebrated Horace-Bénédict de Saussure
Horace-Bénédict de Saussure
200px|thumb|Portrait of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure Horace-Bénédict de Saussure was a Genevan aristocrat, physicist and Alpine traveller, often considered the founder of alpinism, and considered to be the first person to build a successful solar oven.-Life and work:Saussure was born in Conches,...

, was brought up as their son.

Charles Bonnet came up with the idea Underwater plants get bubbles of gas stuck to their leaves. This is dissolved air in the water becoming gas again and sticking to the leaves.

He made law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 his profession, but his favourite pursuit was the study of natural science. The account of the ant-lion in Noël-Antoine Pluche
Noël-Antoine Pluche
Noël-Antoine Pluche ), known as the abbé Pluche, was a French priest. He is now known for his Spectacle de la nature, a most popular work of natural history....

's Spectacle de la nature, which he read in his sixteenth year, turned his attention to insect life. He procured RAF de Réaumur's
René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur
René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur was a French scientist who contributed to many different fields, especially the study of insects.-Life:Réaumur was born in a prominent La Rochelle family and educated in Paris...

 work on insects, and with the help of live specimens succeeded in adding many observations to those of Réaumur and Pluche. In 1740, Bonnet communicated to the Academy of Sciences a paper containing a series of experiments establishing what is now termed parthenogenesis
Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction found in females, where growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization by a male...

 in aphid
Aphids, also known as plant lice and in Britain and the Commonwealth as greenflies, blackflies or whiteflies, are small sap sucking insects, and members of the superfamily Aphidoidea. Aphids are among the most destructive insect pests on cultivated plants in temperate regions...

s or tree-lice, which obtained for him the honour of being admitted a corresponding member of the academy. In 1741, he began to study reproduction by fusion and the regeneration of lost parts in the freshwater hydra and other animals; and in the following year he discovered that the respiration of caterpillar
Caterpillars are the larval form of members of the order Lepidoptera . They are mostly herbivorous in food habit, although some species are insectivorous. Caterpillars are voracious feeders and many of them are considered to be pests in agriculture...

s and butterflies
A butterfly is a mainly day-flying insect of the order Lepidoptera, which includes the butterflies and moths. Like other holometabolous insects, the butterfly's life cycle consists of four parts: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Most species are diurnal. Butterflies have large, often brightly coloured...

 is performed by pores, to which the name of stigmata (or spiracle
Spiracles are openings on the surface of some animals that usually lead to respiratory systems.-Vertebrates:The spiracle is a small hole behind each eye that opens to the mouth in some fishes. In the primitive jawless fish the first gill opening immediately behind the mouth is essentially similar...

s) has since been given. In 1743, he was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

; and in the same year he became a doctor of laws — his last act in connection with a profession which had ever been distasteful to him. In 1753, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences or Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden. The Academy is an independent, non-governmental scientific organization which acts to promote the sciences, primarily the natural sciences and mathematics.The Academy was founded on 2...

, and on December 15, 1769 a foreign member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters
Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters
Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters is a Danish non-governmental science Academy, founded 13 November 1742 by permission of the King Christian VI, as a historical Collegium Antiquitatum...


His first published work appeared in 1745, entitled Traité d'insectologie, in which were collected his various discoveries regarding insects, along with a preface on the development of germ
A microorganism or microbe is a microscopic organism that comprises either a single cell , cell clusters, or no cell at all...

s and the scale of organized beings. Botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

, particularly the leaves of plants, next attracted his attention; and after several years of diligent study, rendered irksome by the increasing weakness of his eyesight, he published in 1754 one of the most original and interesting of his works, Recherches sur l'usage des feuilles dans les plantes; in which among other things he advances many considerations tending to show (as was later done by Francis Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sir Francis "Frank" Darwin, FRS , a son of the British naturalist and scientist Charles Darwin, followed his father into botany.-Biography:Francis Darwin was born in Down House, Downe, Kent in 1848...

) that plants are endowed with powers of sensation and discernment. But Bonnet's eyesight, which threatened to fail altogether, caused him to turn to philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. In 1754 his Essai de psychologie was published anonymously in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. This was followed by the Essai analytique sur les facultés de l'âme (Copenhagen, 1760), in which he develops his views regarding the physiological conditions of mental activity. He returned to physical science, but to the speculative side of it, in his Considerations sur les corps organisées (Amsterdam, 1762), designed to refute the theory of epigenesis, and to explain and defend the doctrine of pre-existent germs. In his Contemplation de la nature (Amsterdam, 1764–1765; translated into Italian, German, English and Dutch), one of his most popular and delightful works, he sets forth, in eloquent language, the theory that all the beings in nature form a gradual scale rising from lowest to highest, without any break in its continuity. His last important work was the Palingénésie philosophique (Geneva, 1769–1770); in it he treats of the past and future of living beings, and supports the idea of the survival of all animals, and the perfecting of their faculties in a future state.

In 1760 he described a condition now called Charles Bonnet Syndrome
Charles Bonnet syndrome
Charles Bonnet syndrome is a condition that causes patients with visual loss to have complex visual hallucinations, first described by Charles Bonnet in 1760 and first introduced into English-speaking psychiatry in 1982.-Characteristics:...

, in which vivid, complex visual hallucinations (fictive visual percepts) occur in psychologically normal people. (He documented it in his 87 year old grandfather, who was nearly blind from cataracts in both eyes but perceived men, women, birds, carriages, buildings, tapestries and scaffolding patterns.) Most people affected are elderly with visual impairments, however the phenomenon does not occur only in the elderly or in those with visual impairments; it can also be caused by damage elsewhere in their optic pathway or brain.

Bonnet's philosophical system may be outlined as follows. Man is a compound of two distinct substances, mind and body, the one immaterial and the other material. All knowledge originates in sensations; sensations follow (whether as physical effects or merely as sequents Bonnet will not say) vibrations in the nerves appropriate to each; and lastly, the nerve
A peripheral nerve, or simply nerve, is an enclosed, cable-like bundle of peripheral axons . A nerve provides a common pathway for the electrochemical nerve impulses that are transmitted along each of the axons. Nerves are found only in the peripheral nervous system...

s are made to vibrate by external physical stimulus. A nerve once set in motion by a particular object tends to reproduce that motion; so that when it a second time receives an impression from the same object it vibrates with less resistance. The sensation accompanying this increased flexibility in the nerve is, according to Bonnet, the condition of memory. When reflection—that is, the active element in mind—is applied to the acquisition and combination of sensations, those abstract ideas are formed which, though generally distinguished from, are thus merely sensations in combination only. That which puts the mind into activity is pleasure or pain; happiness is the end of human existence.

Bonnet's metaphysical
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 theory is based on two principles borrowed from Leibniz
Gottfried Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher and mathematician. He wrote in different languages, primarily in Latin , French and German ....

: first, that there are not successive acts of creation, but that the universe is completed by the single original act of the divine will, and thereafter moves on by its own inherent force; and secondly, that there is no break in the continuity of existence. The divine Being originally created a multitude of germs in a graduated scale, each with an inherent power of self-development. At every successive step in the progress of the universe, these germs, as progressively modified, advance nearer to perfection; if some advanced and others did not there would be a gap in the continuity of the chain. Thus not man only but all other forms of existence are immortal. Nor is man's mind alone immortal; his body also will pass into the higher stage, not, indeed, the body he now possesses, but a finer one of which the germ at present exists within him. It is impossible, however, to reach absolute perfection, because the distance is infinite. In this final proposition Bonnet violates his own principle of continuity, by postulating an interval between the highest created being and the Divine. It is also difficult to understand whether the constant advance to perfection is performed by each individual, or only by each race of beings as a whole. There seems, in fact, to be an oscillation between two distinct but analogous doctrines—that of the constantly increasing advancement of the individual in future stages of existence, and that of the constantly increasing advancement of the race as a whole according to the successive evolutions of the globe. In Philosophical Palingesis, or Ideas on the Past and Future States of Living Beings (1770), Bonnet argued that females carry within them all future generations in a miniature form. He believed these miniature beings, sometimes called homonculi, would be able to survive even great cataclysms such as the biblical Flood; he predicted, moreover, that these catastrophes brought about evolutionary change, and that after the next disaster, men would become angels, mammals would gain intelligence, and so on.

Bonnet had an influence on other philosophers and pre-evolutionary thinkers
History of evolutionary thought
Evolutionary thought, the conception that species change over time, has roots in antiquity, in the ideas of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese as well as in medieval Islamic science...

; James Burnett, Lord Monboddo
James Burnett, Lord Monboddo
James Burnett, Lord Monboddo was a Scottish judge, scholar of linguistic evolution, philosopher and deist. He is most famous today as a founder of modern comparative historical linguistics . In 1767 he became a judge in the Court of Session. As such, Burnett adopted an honorary title based on his...

 is known to have studied his publications on insects and to have been influenced as he developed concepts on progression of species (evolution).

Bonnet's complete works appeared at Neuchâtel in 1779-1783, partly revised by himself. An English translation of certain portions of the Palingénésie philosophique was published in 1787, under the title Philosophical and Critical Inquiries concerning Christianity. See also A Lemoine, Charles Bonnet (Paris, 1850); the duc de Caraman, Charles Bonnet, philosophe et naturaliste (Paris, 1859); Max Offner, Die Psychologie C. B. (Leipzig, 1893); Joh. Speck, in Arch. f. Gesch. d. Philos x. (1897), xi. (1897), pp. 58 foIl., Xi. (1898) pp. 1–211; J Trembley, Vie privée et littéraire de C. B. (Bern, 1794).

External links

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