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

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

28

THE INTELLECTUAL DRAMA IN
SPAIN AND PORTUGAL

From the 1680s onwards, the spread of Cartesianism, Malebranchisme, and other branches of the New Philosophy in Spain and Portugal generated a profound intellectual turmoil followed by a process of sporadic renewal, culminating by around 1750 in the emergence, in essential features, of a characteristically Iberian form of Enlightenment. This tumultuous process transformed not only philosophical debate but the entire fabric of Iberian medicine, science, and higher education, and had major ramifications also in Spanish America and Brazil. Moreover, despite various typically local hallmarks, this Iberian intellectual upheaval was always intimately linked to the wider phenomenon gripping Europe as a whole, indeed it formed an integral part of the five-cornered general contest for supremacy between Aristotelianism, NeoCartesianism, Leibnizian–Wolffianism, Newtonianism, and the Radical Enlightenment as it raged everywhere else in Europe with the partial exception of Britain, where the second and third components were missing.

Foreign ideas fed into the Spanish-and Portuguese-speaking world in the early stages primarily from Naples, Rome, and southern France. But the decisive and also unusual feature in both Spain and Portugal was the virtually complete eclipse of the first four strains after around 1730, and the overwhelming triumph of British empiricism to an extent unmatched elsewhere. If there was one part of continental Europe of which it can be justly said that English empiricist ideas almost completely ousted every other competing variety of Enlightenment, that part was the Iberian Peninsula.

In the 1650s and 1660s, when intellectual rebels such as Juan de Prado and Orobio de Castro left Spain, there was as yet no open challenge to authority, faith, or traditional learning. Magalotti, who accompanied Prince Cosimo to Spain on his visit of 1668–9, reported to Florence in November 1668 that Spanish books contained absolutely nothing apart from 'scholastic theology and outdated medicine as found in the works of Galen'.1 The first stirrings of the Spanish Enlightenment, that is, the initial assault on scholasticism and Galenist medicine, began only in the 1680s and 1690s in Valencia, Seville, and Madrid. According to Matheo Diego Zapata (c.1665–1745)—along with Feijóo and Piquer, one of the three pre-eminent figures of the Spanish Enlighten-

1 Quoted in Kamen, Spain, 313.

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