The Making of Modernity

History of Philosophy

Since the early 2000s the members of the Rotterdam Group for the History of Philosophy have been
concentrating on the early modern age, and more in particular on the history of philosophy in the
Dutch Republic. We all firmly agree the history of philosophy should be studied in close connection
both to the history of science and to the political as well as the theological and religious contexts in
which it flourished. While we are specifically interested in the way in which ‘modern’ philosophical
notions arose from the early modern age, we also agree we are only able to locate and identify
these notions once we are prepared to study their genesis in their own, historical surroundings. Over
the years we have produced a steady stream of papers, edited volumes, monographs and text
editions relating to such authors as Erasmus, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, and Bayle. While the
History of Philosophy in the Netherlands will continue to occupy our Group, three separate research
trajectories have emerged, in which as a matter of fact both the themes of Rationality and
Subjectivity play a crucial role.  

(a) By linking the rationalist stance in early-modern natural philosophy and science to the earlier
development of a classical notion of ratio that thrived within the tradition of humanism, we hope to
demonstrate how Renaissance moral conceptions of rationality and early-modern appeals to mental
discipline accompanying the transformation from classical forms of natural philosophy and
metaphysics both contributed to increasingly pragmatic formulations of what might count as a
scientific explanation of natural phenomena. Connecting the world of Erasmus and Vives to that of
Descartes and Comte, our investigation into the origins of scientific rationality will address both the
epistemic and the moral backgrounds to the emergence of science in early modern Europe.

(b) The topic of war in the early modern history of ideas has received little attention in contemporary
philosophy. There is however a range of rich and fascinating topics that pertain both to philosophy
and to war. What is the nature of warfare and what are its causes? What is the relation between war
and politics? In which way can the rationalization and the growth of discipline of the Early Modern
armies be seen to have resulted from the changing intellectual climate, and did these military
developments themselves influence the intellectual debate? The Philosophy of War is a young and
growing branch at the tree of knowledge. We seek to contribute to this new and interdisciplinary
enterprise by focusing on the period 1500-1850, the period in which the methodology of scientific
reasoning took shape, and in which the map of modern Europe was drawn.

(c) Finally, we are trying to write a History of Philosophy of the Dutch Enlightenment by aligning our
research into the Dutch reception history of canonical thinkers such as Spinoza, Bayle, Leibniz and
Newton with the most recent findings on the literary, social and political history of the eighteenthcentury
Dutch Republic. The Dutch Enlightenment has only recently been rediscovered by cultural
historians, but in their perspective philosophy plays hardly any part. We hope to deliver an
interpretation of the eighteenth-century Dutch philosophy which is informed by the wider cultural
history of the dying decades of the Dutch Republic. It will address both the way in which Dutch
philosophers reacted to the growing autonomy of the natural sciences and the impact the late
eighteenth-century ‘culture of sensibility’ had on the practice of philosophy.