A theologian teaching Descartes at the Academy of Nijmegen (1655–1679): class notes on Christoph Wittich’s course on the Meditations on First Philosophy [Book Review]

Intellectual History Review 30 (4):585-613 (2020)
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This article studies the extant class notes of a course on Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) and (part of) the Principles of Philosophy (1644), which was given by the reformed theologian Christoph Wittich (1625–1687) at the former Dutch University of Nijmegen (1655–1679). This manuscript contains dictata, taken (presumably in 1664) under the title Observationes in Renati Descartes Meditationes de prima philosophia. Observations in ejusdem Principiorum philosophiae partem primam. This article mainly considers three themes surfacing in Wittich’s classes: (a) doubt and scepticism; (b) “vulgar” and “proper philosophy”; (c) philosophy and Scripture. On the one hand, this study explains how Wittich tried to harmonise Cartesian metaphysics with his Calvinist faith by defining them as two autonomous fields of knowledge. On the other hand, Wittich’s ideas are shown to have met with much resistance on the part of some of his contemporary theologians. The study of Wittich’s course supplies new knowledge concerning the teaching of one of the first theologians to openly seek to combine Descartes's ideas and Copernican astronomy with the Bible. In so doing, this article offers direct insight into the way in which the new philosophy was taught in Nijmegen, and in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic in general.



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