home email

Pierre Prévost

         Simon Antoine Jean L'huilier

b. 3 March 1751, Geneva, Switzerland

24 April 1750, Geneva, Switzerland

d. 8 April 1839, Geneva

28 March 1840, Geneva

Pierre Prévost was born 3 March 1751 in Geneva and died there 8 April 1839. It seems that he studied under Mallet. In 1780 Prévost was appointed Professor of Physics at the Berlin École militaire. He was a member of the Berlin academy of sciences.

Simon Antoine Jean L'huilier was born in Geneva as well on 24 April 1750 and died also died there 28 March 1840. He wrote several papers jointly with Prévost.

Prévost and L'huilier published in the scholarly journals of the Berlin society. From 1770 to 1786, this journal was officially named Nouveaux mémoires de l'Académie royale des sciences et belles-lettres: avec l'histoire pour la même année. It was conntinued until 1804 under the title Mémoires de l'Académie royale des sciences et belles-lettres depuis l'avénement de Fréderic Guillaume II (or subsequently Fréderic Guillaume III) au trône: avec l'histoire pour la même temps.

Pierre Prévost

Three papers papers by Prévost form a series of which the latter two appear under the same title. These papers are:

"Observations sur les méthodes employées for enseigner la morale," Nouveaux Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-lettres de Berlin, 1780, pp. 414-429. "Sur les principes de la Théorie des gains fortuits," Nouveaux Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-lettres de Berlin, 1780, pp. 430-72 and, a second part, 1781, pp. 463-472.

The first memoir concerns the proper manner to teach morals. It is included here because it is the starting point for the two which follow. Indeed, the last few paragraphs take up a discussion of the Petersburg problem to which Montmort, Nicholas Bernoulli, D'Alembert, Daniel Bernoulli, Buffon and Beguelin all devoted attention. 

According to Prévost, traditionally three methods have been used for moral instruction: principles, sentiment and experience. Prévost is particularly fond of the moral instruction of Cicero. 

Cicero, although an Eclectic philosopher, was heavily influenced by the Stoic school. The founder of the Stoic school, Zeno of Citium (c. 324-262 BC), based all knowledge on sense perception. The so-called Middle Stoa is identified with Panaetius of Rhodes (c. 185 - c. 110 BC) and Poseidonius of Apamaea (c.135 - 51 BC). Cicero used works written by the former and heard instruction by the latter in 98 BC. Finally, we mention that Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC - 64 AD), Epictetus (55 - 135 AD) and Marcus Aurelius (121 - 180 AD) were members of the Later Stoa. From this period alone do writings other than fragments survive. The Stoic Maxim is "Life according to nature." Its Cardinal Virtues are Moral Insight, Courage, Self-control or Temperance, and Justice. See, in particular, Cicero's De Officiis

In the second of these three papers, Prévost first makes an examination of the foundations of probability theory in order to resolve the difficulties he sees with the theory. To this end, he identifies three hypotheses as foundation of the theory. These are:

  1. All outcomes are equiprobable.
  2. The value of a sum actually possessed is equal to its expected value 
  3. The value of money is exactly proportional to its denomination.

In his second section, Prévost examines the use of these hypotheses by various authors. The third section concerns application of the third hypothesis. The third paper contains the fourth section which is an application of his hypotheses to certain problem. 

Prévost threatens us with a final memoir presenting applications and further difficulties of another kind. This paper does not seem to have been written. If it had, its content would appear to be a discussion of experimental results devoted to the questions of D'Alembert.

Prévost and L'huilier

With L'huilier, Prévost wrote the following:

It is appropriate to cite here Matthew Young's "On the force of Testimony in establishing Facts contrary to Analogy," found in Vol. VII of the Transactions fo the Royal Irish Academy (1800) occupying pages 79-118.