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Daniel Garber

Princeton University
How Philosophy Became Modern in the 17thC
01 October 2017 -
30 June 2018

Daniel Garber is the A. Watson J. Armour III University Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Princeton University, with affiliated appointments in Politics and the History of Science. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1975 to 2002, and has held visiting positions at The Johns Hopkins University, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the École Normale Supérieure at Lyon, among other institutions. Garber is a Guggenheim Fellow and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His last book, Leibniz: Body, Substance, Monad (Oxford University Press, 2009), is a contextual study of the complex path that led Leibniz to his final views on basic metaphysics and the make-up of the physical world.

Research interests

The relations between philosophy, science, and society in the period of the Scientific Revolution, including the idea of a new philosophy/science and the eclipse of scholastic Aristotelianism in the period, the effect of new institutions such as the scientific society and the learned journal on scientific and philosophical thought, and the relations between religion and politics in the early-modern period.

How Philosophy became Modern in the 17th century

My project is to study the emergence of a self-consciously modern philosophy in the early seventeenth century. Descartes is widely considered the father of modern philosophy. But this is false. Already when Descartes was a student, there was a lively and very diverse group challenging the Aristotelian orthodoxy of the schools, the so-called novatores, or innovators. It was against the background of these very controversial figures that Descartes wrote his philosophy and his contemporaries read his first publications. My goal is to understand how the idea of a modern philosophy emerged in the early and mid-seventeenth century, and how novelty in philosophy, at one time widely considered dangerous and threatening to religious orthodoxy, later became accepted and encouraged. Furthermore, I want to understand how these novatores related to the Aristotelian traditions that they were rejecting, how they conceived of themselves with respect to other moderns, and how the actors in the period regarded their place in the history of philosophy. In short, I want to capture the complexity of the period, what it was like to be writing and sorting out the world at a moment when the authority of the scholastic Aristotelian philosophy was being challenged, in which it wasn’t clear where the intellectual world was going, and when the figures, like Descartes, whom we now take to be canonical were not yet canonical.

Modern period (1492-1789)
Western Europe