Oxford University Press (2005)

What is the je-ne-sais-quoi? How - if at all - can it be put into words? In addressing these questions, Richard Scholar offers the first full-length study of the je-ne-sais-quoi and its fortunes in early modern Europe. He describes the rise and fall of the expression as a noun and as a topic of debate, examines its cluster of meanings, and uncovers the scattered traces of its 'pre-history'. The je-ne-sais-quoi is often assumed to belong purely to the realm of the literary, but in the early modern period it serves to articulate problems of knowledge in natural philosophy, the passions, and culture, and for that reason it is approached here from an interdisciplinary perspective. Placing major figures of the period such as Montaigne, Shakespeare, Descartes, Corneille, and Pascal alongside some of their lesser-known contemporaries, Scholar argues that the je-ne-sais-quoi serves above all to capture first-person encounters with a 'certain something' that is as difficult to explain as its effects are intense. When early modern writers use the expression in this way, he suggests, they give literary form to an experience that twenty-first-century readers may recognize as something like their own.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy this book $154.99 new   Amazon page
ISBN(s) 9780199274406   0199274401
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 72,577
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library


A Secret of Nature? Descartes and the Philosophers

It is commonly said in the early modern period that elusive qualities draw natural bodies together. This chapter offers a critical history of attempts to explain such preternatural forces in natural philosophy. It argues that the je-ne-sais-quoi appears as a key term in the vernacular deba... see more

A Certain Something: Montaigne

This chapter attempts to rescue the je-ne-sais-quoi from its history of sedimentation and loss of semantic force as a supple lexical means of tracing powerful first-person experiences that elude explanation. It undertakes this rescue attempt by altering the direction of the historical narr... see more

References found in this work BETA

Force (God) in Descartes' Physics.Gary C. Hatfield - 1979 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 10 (2):113-140.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

18th Century French Aesthetics.Jacques Morizot - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Morality and Je Ne Sais Quoi Concepts.Ernest Gellner - 1955 - Analysis 16 (5):97 - 103.
Conscience and Casuistry in Early Modern Europe.Edmund Leites (ed.) - 1988 - Editions De La Maison des Sciences De L'Homme.
Disguised Vices: Theories of Virtue in Early Modern French Thought.Sean Greenberg - 2013 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 51 (1):123-124.
Metaphor and That Certain 'Je Ne Sais Quoi'.Elisabeth Camp - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 129 (1):1 - 25.


Added to PP index

Total views
26 ( #443,675 of 2,533,615 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #389,998 of 2,533,615 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes