Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy, 1637-1650

Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy, 1637-1650

Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy, 1637-1650

Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy, 1637-1650


Theo Verbeek provides the first book-length examination of the initial reception of Descartes's written works. Drawing on his research of primary materials written in Dutch and Latin and found in libraries all over Europe, even including the Soviet Union, Theo Verbeek opens a period of Descartes's life and of the development of Cartesian philosophy that has been virtually closed since Descartes's death. Verbeek's aim is to provide as complete a picture as possible of the discussions that accompanied the introduction of Descartes's philosophy into Dutch universities, especially those in Utrecht and Leiden, and to analyze some of the major problems that philosophy raised in the eyes of Aristotelian philosophers and orthodox theologians. The period covered extends from 1637, the year in which Descartes published hisDiscours de la Méthode,until his death in 1650. Verbeek demonstrates how Cartesian philosophy moved successfully into the schools and universities of Holland and how this resulted in a real evolution of Descartes's thought beyond the somewhat dogmatic position of Descartes himself. Verbeek further argues that this progression was an essential step in the universal propagation of Cartesian philosophy throughout Europe during the second half of the seventeenth century. As he details the disputes between Cartesians and anti-Cartesians in Holland, Verbeek shows how the questions raised were related on the one hand to religious conflicts between the Remonstrants and the Orthodox Calvinists and on the other hand to political conflicts between more liberal factions fighting for the union of church and state to enhance religious control of society in general. Contending that Descartes and Cartesian philosophy were central to the development of the modern Dutch state, Verbeek illuminates the role they played in Dutch political, religious, and intellectual life.


This is the first study of Dutch academic reactions to Descartes' philosophy that is based entirely on primary sources. Starting in 1637, the publication year of the Discours, it ends about 1650, the year Descartes died. Because most of the facts were not previously known and many of the sources are rare and virtually inaccessible, I have been as explicit as possible when relating facts, leaving out any discussion of specific philosophical problems. Moreover, I have given much attention to those aspects that can be helpful for further research.

Many are those who, in some way, contributed to the result. I would like to thank Professor Richard Watson, at whose suggestion I wrote this book. I am grateful to my friend and former student Han van Ruler, with whom I discussed the manuscript and who suggested some important ameliorations. Professor Jan van den Berg and Professor Wijnand Mijnhardt went over parts of the manuscript and had some very helpful comments. My friend Professor Alastair Hamilton kindly spent much time correcting my English. Finally, Professor Watson made me realize that English, although it is universally understood, does not sound the same on both sides of the ocean.

I gratefully acknowledge the kind efficiency I encountered in the university libraries of Leiden, Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Groningen, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library) in the Hague, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the British Library in London, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin, the University Library of Marburg, and the Alte Bibliothek of the Evangelisch Theologisches Seminar der Landeskirche von Hessen und Nassau in Herborn. the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library in St. Petersburg kindly provided a microfilm of an important item in their possession.

A Note on Disputations

Disputations are an important source for the knowledge of Dutch academic philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They are of two kinds: pro gradu and sub praeside. the first must be compared with our doctoral dissertations. They were written by the student to obtain a degree and publicly defended in a solemn session of the senate, the assembly of professors. the second were meant as an exercise. They consisted either of a series of theses, small paragraphs devoted to one specific problem, or of a collection of loosely . . .

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