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Han Thomas Adriaenssen

Modernity Contested

The Aristotelian Challenge to Early-Modern Science and Philosophy
(NWO - Veni scheme, 2016-2019)

The history of Early-Modern philosophy still tends to be taught as ‘a history of genius’. Thinkers in the wake of Descartes shook off the legacy of medieval Aristotelianism, and replaced it with a new physics, a new scientific methodology, and a new account of the relation between body and soul. This was a major achievement, and it is not surprising that few thinkers have been more extensively studied than the great innovators of Early-Modern philosophy.

Giorgione, Three philosophers
Giorgione, Three philosophers

But if our focus on the Early-Modern innovators is understandable, it also leads to a one-sided picture. For rather than witnessing a steady rise of new paradigms at the expense of medieval Aristotelianism, Early-Modern Europe presented a unique laboratory of philosophical ideas, in which new hypotheses were continuously contested by Aristotelian thinkers, who feared that the novatores were throwing away the baby with the bathwater. Little is known about these figures who represented the ‘obverse side’ of the Early-Modern medal (Krook, John Sergeant and his Circle, 13). But if Early-Modern philosophy was characterized by continuous conversation and debate between old and new worlds, we must do more to hear the voices that questioned, and often opposed, the Cartesian cry for innovation.

This project will map the ways in which Aristotelians questioned the new theories, as well as the exchange of arguments and views that resulted from their questions and challenges. It will show that the Aristotelians had much more to offer than just conservative dismissals of innovation. On the contrary, they put their fingers on the new theories’ sore spots, thereby forcing innovators to reconsider their arguments and views. By giving due attention to a number of so-called minor figures, this project will improve our understanding of the unique interplay between Aristotelianism and innovation that shaped Early-Modern philosophy.

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Last modified:05 June 2019 07.27 a.m.