Perfection and hierarchies of knowledge in eighteenth-century Dutch philosophy
How representative were Frans Hemsterhuis’ (1721-1790) ideas about the nature of knowledge for the understanding of knowledge in the eighteenth-century Netherlands?
In the eighteenth-century Netherlands, scholars and amateurs alike frequently complained about the deplorable state of the arts and sciences in the Low Countries. A particularly interesting voice in this discourse was that of François (Frans) Hemsterhuis (1721-1790). In his Lettre sur l’homme et ses rapports (1772), he argued that optics, mechanics, economics, and particularly most of the quadrivium, namely arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, were nearing perfection, but that the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric), politics, fine arts, and music were wilting. Hemsterhuis ascribed this decline to an elliptic cycle of flourish and decline in human knowledge. This project explores how representative Hemsterhuis’ ideas about the nature of knowledge were for the eighteenth-century Netherlands, what, if any, solutions he offered for the decline of particular ‘sciences’, and how his
ideas reflected and shaped contemporary European epistemology.
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