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PhD ceremony mr. H.T. Adriaenssen: Knowledge and the veil of representations. A comparison of late-medieval and early-modern critiques of species and ideas

When:Th 26-09-2013 at 12:45

PhD ceremony: mr. H.T. Adriaenssen, 12.45 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Dissertation: Knowledge and the veil of representations. A comparison of late-medieval and early-modern critiques of species and ideas

Promotor(s): prof. L.W. Nauta

Faculty: Philosophy

The philosophy of the seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes has often been cast as a turning point in the history of philosophy. Thus, in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty argued that Descartes radically departed from Medieval views on knowledge and cognition. While for the medievals, cognitive access to external reality was unproblematic, Descartes maintained that our access to the world is always mediated by representations. All we have knowledge of, that is, is the world as it is represented by our minds. With this view, Rorty claims, Descartes firmly put the problem of skepticism on the agenda of modern philosophy. After all, if all we ever really know are representations, how can we ascertain whether these representations reliably depict reality?

Han Thomas Adriaenssen argues in his dissertation that (1) the notion that our access to reality is mediated by representations is rather older than Descartes, and goes back at least to the Middle Ages. Also, (2) the skeptical problems that are associated with Descartes’ ‘representationalist’ view on knowledge and cognition were hotly debated by Medieval thinkers in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. It turns out that the ways in which Medieval and Early-Modern philosophers conceived of the relation between representationalism and skepticism are highly similar to each other. Moreover, the attempts to circumvent skepticism that seventeenth-century thinkers undertook are very much reminiscent of the ways in which their Medieval predecessors dealt with that problem. Thus, central concepts (‘representation’) and problems (skepticism) of Early-Modern philosophy turn out to be older than is often recognized. And by the same token, Medieval philosophy is much more modern than appears at first glance.

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