Philosophy, history of philosophy, and l
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Philosophy, history of philosophy, and l'histoire de l'esprit

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16 Pages
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Philosophy, History of Philosophy, and l’Histoire de l’Esprit Humain: A Historiographical Question and Problem for Philosophers* J ONATHAN I SRAEL
N UMEROUS intellectual and cultural innovations were introduced in western Europe during the early Enlightenment period, roughly during the 80 years from 1660 to 1740, in the wake of the rise of Cartesianism and the so-called mechanistic worldview. Many of these, such as the new Bible criticism of Spinoza and Richard Simon and such innovative mathematics such as Newton’s and Leibniz’s calculus, are well-known; other innovations, though, are less so. In recent years, a number of scholars, including Donald Kelley and several German colleagues, have drawn attention to a hitherto remarkably little discussed phenomenon in the history of European thought— namely, the advent, or invention, of a new and (for a time) highly controversial scholarly field of research called history of philosophy and sometimes also, more vaguely, historia philosophica. 1 The érudits who wrought this change in the scholarly landscape were often extremely scathing about the efforts of earlier scholars, from Lorenzo Valla and Ficino onward, to investigate the history of philosophy, very possibly too much so. Nikolaus Hieronymus Gundling (1671–1729), for example, a Halle professor dubbed by
*If what follows has any merit, I must thank a number of colleagues with whom I have had the benefit of an extremely stimulating series of conversations in Princeton over the past two years, discussion without which I would not have been able to develop this line of argument. In particular, I wish to thank Martin Mulsow, Donald Kelley, Jerry Schneewind, Morton White, Malcolm de Mowbray, Jonathan Sheehan, and Tony Grafton.
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