Lambert, Johann Henrich

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Lambert, Johann Henrich (1728-1777): German Philosopher.

Although Johann Henrich Lambert could be considered a minor figure of the Enlightenment, he nevertheless made significant contributions in the fields of physics, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. Lambert was born in Mulhouse, Alsace (Germany). He was largely self-taught, and after 1748 began tutoring children in wealthy families throughout Europe. In 1759 he was elected to the Munich Academy, and subsequently to the Berlin Academy (1764).

In the field of mathematics Lambert is recognized for two central achievements: he introduced the notion of hyperbolic functions into trigonometry and was able to prove that Pi was an irrational number. In physics his work on the relation of heat, light, and color led him to be recognized as the father of photometry. In astronomy, in his work Cosmological Letters on the Structure of the Universe, he offered a cosmogonic hypothesis which was largely based on Newton’s theory of gravitation. In philosophy, Lambert is recognized for two central works. The first, published in 1764, the New Organon, or Thoughts on the Investigation and Indication of Truth and of the Distinction of Truth and Error, was a mingling of Wolfian, Lockean and Pietist elements. His second, and perhaps lesser known work published in 1771, would nevertheless exert a greater influence in the history of philosophy. This work, the Foundation of Architectonic or Theory of the Simple and Primary Elements in Philosophical and Mathematical Knowledge, had significant impact on Kant, Immanuel and Tetens, Johann Nicolaus.

Further Reading:

M.E. Eisenring, Johann Heinrich Lambert und die Wissenschaftlich Philosophie der Gegenwart, 1942.

F. Scott Scribner