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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Call for Abstracts: Conceptions of Experience in the German Enlightenment between Wolff and Kant

Call for Abstracts: Conceptions of Experience in the German Enlightenment between Wolff and Kant

University of Leuven, February 24-25, 2017

Submission deadline: October 15, 2016

Confirmed keynote Speakers
Christian Leduc (Montréal)
Arnaud Pelletier (Brussels)
Anne-Lise Rey (Lille)
Udo Thiel (Graz)

Organized by Karin de Boer (University of Leuven) and Tinca Prunea-Bretonnet (University of Bucharest)

The purpose of this conference is to analyze the various conceptions of experience at play in eighteenth-century German philosophy between Leibniz’s death in 1716 and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. During this period, the classical Aristotelian definition of experience as cognition of singulars – to some extent still present in Wolff – became confronted with the Baconian and Newtonian accounts of empirical knowledge. In the decades before the mid-century, the views of Locke and Hume, as well as French sensualism and materialism, complicated the prevailing German perspective on experience even more: the notion of empirical or ‘historical’ knowledge became linked to experiment and observation, investigations into perception and sensation took center stage, and ‘inner experience’ grew into a widely discussed topic.

The Berlin Academy, through the prize-essay contests it organized and the writings of its members, importantly contributed to the dissemination of Newtonianism and empiricism. Yet while most philosophers acknowledged the fundamental role of experience, they tried to accomodate the modern notions of experience to a view of cognition and science influenced by Wolffian metaphysics. The question as to the contribution of foundational metaphysical principles and empirical data to scientific knowledge was much discussed, as was the relationship between inner and outer experience, experience and thought, experience and judgment, experience and facts, experience and perception, experience and experiment, and perception and apperception.

Challenging the historiographical opposition between empiricism and rationalism, the conference aims to explore the often ambivalent or fluid conceptions of experience at work in these debates, as well their influence on disciplines such as psychology and aesthetics. Whereas all contributions relevant to these topics are welcome, we are particularly interested in contributions on the conceptions of experience elaborated by members of the Berlin Academy and by participants in the contests initiated by this institution.

The conference aims at stimulating fruitful exchanges between established scholars, junior researchers, and PhD students. Presentation time will be 25 minutes + 20 minutes for discussion.

Abstracts (of no more than 500 words) should be sent in MSWord as attachment to

Abstracts should be prepared for double-blind review by removing any identification details. The author’s name, paper title, institutional position and affiliation, as well as contact information, should be included in the body of the e-mail.

Notification of acceptance by November 15, 2016.


The Experimental-Speculative debate in early modern Spain 2

Juan Gomez writes…

Following up on my previous post, we will examine today the second part of the  Alvarez-Palanco-Zapata-Lessaca-Najera controversy. Last time, we introduced the issue by examining Gabriel Alvarez de Toledo’s attempt to stand at the crossroads of the experimental/speculative divide. We saw that he gave an account of the creation of the world which he claimed was consistent with both the story told in Genesis and the theory of atomism. However, some scholastic thinkers viewed Alvarez’s account as a threat, and decided to criticize him. In today’s post we will look at Fransisco Palanco’s attack on the new science and a reply from the novatores side by Juan de Nájera.

Fransisco Palanco published in 1714 his Dialogus physico-theologicus contra Philosophiae Novatores, sive thomista contra atomistas as a reaction to Alvarez’s texts. Palanco was perhaps the most vocal of the scholastic thinkers who opposed the novatores and the new science, but his attacks were easily dismissed by the novatores themselves. In fact, even some well-known priests from Palanco’s same order (Emmanuel Maignan and Jean Saguens) criticized the Dialogus physico-theologicus. To begin with, the title of the text suggests that it proposes a defense of Thomism from atomism, but it turns out the text is actually an attack on Descartes and the Cartesian system. Even this description of the text is somewhat inaccurate, since the criticisms made are against a few Cartesians (Antoine Le Grand, Theodore Graanen, and François Bayle) and not Descartes himself. Palanco had missed his target: Cartesianism is not the same as atomism, as the novatores would soon point out. But the most criticized aspect was the fact that Palanco takes the discussion out of its scientific framework, focusing solely on the religious and theological aspect.

In spite of all the flaws of Palanco’s text, the book did manage to get the attention of the novatores and it set the stage for a proper scientific debate between scholastics and novatores.

In 1716 Juan de Nájera, under the pseudonym Alejandro de Avendaño, published Diálogos philosophicos en defensa del atomismo as a response to Palanco. Nájera constructs a dialogue between an atomist and a scholastic (Palanco), where he shows the supremacy of atomism and reinforces the maxims we saw in Alvarez’s Historia de la Iglesia: corpuscles as the primitive matter for compounds, material forms, the distinction between substance and accident, among other topics.

Besides Nájera’s response, the book contains a review by Diego Mateo Zapata where he defends the new science and the novatores, explaining that atomism is different from cartesianism, rejecting Aristotelianism, and reinforcing the importance of experimental physics for our investigation of the natural world. Zapata’s review stands out as valuable, since it gives us some very clear statements of the way in which the novatores stand as Spain’s promoters of experimental philosophy.

Zapata first clarifies: “I am not Cartesian, but rather Maignanist,” stating that he adheres to the atomism of Maignan. Despite this claim, he goes on to defend Descartes, making an exaggerated emphasis on the latter’s religious devotion and faith. Aside from this defense of Descartes, the main thrust of the review is to defend the new science. Zapata gives us the following statement which summarizes his viewpoint:

Oh poor, miserable, weary Physics, or Natural Philosophy, how unattended and disregarded you are, on accounts of not being understood! Everyone dares you, abuses you, and disfigures you wanting to dress you with a Metaphysical varnish. Your truth, real nature and properties are obscured so they can’t be found, nor can the immense variety of your legitimate, sensible, natural Phenomena be explained.

Following this, Zapata claims that the cause for this neglect lays in upholding Aristotelianism. He comments that the scholastics follow Aristotelianism blindly, to the point where “the eyes are not believed so the belief in Aristotle is not lost.” This rejection of Aristotelianism and the complaint of the way the scholastics carry out their natural philosophy places the Spanish novatores clearly on the experimental side of the ESD, strengthening the claim that the ESD can be useful for our interpretation of the history of philosophy in Spain.

As for the controversy at hand, Palanco’s arguments are not strong enough and even a bit sidetracked, leaving us without much to work with in order to understand the scholastic viewpoint on the matter and if such views line up with the speculative side of the ESD. However, in my next post we will have the opportunity to examine a text by a scholastic which does shed some light on the matter: Juan Martin de Lessaca’s Formas ilustradas a la luz de la razón, a response to Zapata and Nájera.