Napoleon and Laplace

Today I got a comment from RRRG mentioning a classic story about Laplace and Napoleon that I posted in an old version of this blog in 2006. Unfortunately that blog is no longer available—I need to do something about it—so I looked for the original text (which is in Wikipedia with numerous sources) and I’m reposting it now, for your reading pleasure:

Laplace went in state to Napoleon to accept a copy of his work, and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and so characteristic of all the parties concerned that I quote it in full.

Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, ‘M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.’

Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, ‘Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.’ (“I had no need of that hypothesis.”)

Thanks RRRG!

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