Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview
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i. Lodewijk Meyer (1629–1681)

The first of the great public intellectual controversies generated by the rise of radical thought erupted in 1666 with the appearance of a short anonymous book entitled Philosophia S. Scripturae Interpres. The author of this sensational and inflammatory work—though his identity remained unknown during the furore and subsequently for many decades—was a prominent member of the philosophical coterie gathered around Spinoza and Van den Enden—the Amsterdam physician, Latinist, lexicographer, and man of the theatre, Lodewijk (Louis) Meyer (1629–81). From a Lutheran background, Meyer in temperament resembled Van den Enden more than Spinoza, being combative in debate and fond of conviviality, jesting, and women. A talented man with a strong sense of mission, he was erudite, in some respects a fervent Cartesian, and one of Spinoza's principal collaborators.1

Meyer enrolled at Leiden in 1654, studying first philosophy and, from 1658, medicine at a time when Adriaen Koerbagh, whom he presumably saw regularly, also belonged to that faculty.2 Probably he already knew Spinoza in the late 1650s, especially if we accept that the latter did sit in on lectures for a time between July 1656 and the summer of 1658.3 The principal Cartesians teaching philosophy at Leiden in 1657–8, at which point Meyer, Koerbagh, and Spinoza were seemingly all present, were Heereboord, De Raey, and from 1658, the forceful and innovative Arnold Geulincx.4 All three young

1 Monnikhoff, Beschrijving, 213; Klever, Mannen rond Spinoza, 61–4; Steenbakkers, Spinoza's Ethica, 17–18,
21, 27.

2 Meinsma, Spinoza, 194–7; Nadler, Spinoza, 171–2.

3 Révah, Marranes à Spinoza, 198; Proietti, 'Le “Philedonius” ', 54.

4 Arnold Geulincx (1623–69), originally from Antwerp, was a fervent Cartesian and Jansenist who,
obliged to flee Louvain, took refuge in Leiden in 1658. He was officially allowed to give private classes and
preside over disputations in philosophy from 1659 and promoted to professor in 1665. A firm champion of
Descartes' two-substance theory, he is particularly noted for his work on the mind-body relationship, an
area where he developed a form of 'occasionalism' not unlike that that of Malebranche later. He was one of
five Leiden professors carried off in the plague epidemic of 1669. In his lifetime he published only the first
part of his Ethics (1665). The full version of the latter, edited by his friend and pupil, the reformist doctor Cor-
nelis Bontekoe, appeared in 1675, his works on physics and metaphysics only between 1688 and 1691. It was
only in the early eighteenth century that a strong suspicion of a link between Geulincx and Spinoza arose;
see Audi, Cambridge Dictionary, 296; Thijssen-Schoute, Nederlands Cartesianisme, 149–54.


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