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The Top 10 Dutch Philosophers You Ought to Know About

By Yann, published on 30/10/2018 We Love Prof - AU > Languages > Dutch > Discovering the Most Distinguished Dutch Philosophers

“Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed.” -Galileo Galilei

Philosophy is a very popular academic discipline usually studied at a post-secondary level which analyzes the nature of knowledge, reality and existence. The ideas of philosophy are generally very abstract and cause pupils to meditate on the facts and create their own conclusions.

The most acclaimed philosophers to walk this earth are Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and Confucius. 

Their philosophies have been examined by intellectuals for years. Philosophers have an intense love for wisdom and want to share their findings with the world.

Philosophers provide pearls of knowledge in a wide range of topics that can be studied by any individual. The most common subjects of philosophy include ethics, logic, existential philosophy and contemporary political philosophy. 

Europe has always been filled with philosophers and the country of the Netherlands is no different. Superprof is here to analyze the top 10 most famous Dutch philosophers and how they contributed to society. Some have influenced the thought process at a national level and others philosophies have impacted the world at an international level.

Baruch Spinoza

making a difference Baruch Spinoza shocked quite a few people with his philosophical ideas and his books were banned for many years. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher of Portuguese descent who was born in 1632 in Amsterdam. Along with René Descartes, Spinoza was a leading philosopher during the Dutch Golden Age.

Not only was Spinoza a philosopher but he was a mathematician, political thinker and lens maker. 

Spinoza’s forward thinking and philosophies were shunned by many and banned in most parts of Europe for over 200 years. His most notable ideas included intellectual and religious freedom, separation of the church and state and pantheism which is the belief that all things contain an all-encompassing and immanent god.

His magnum opus, Ethics, covered the themes of moral philosophy, the structure of reality and god or nature. Heavily criticized by Catholics for its discussion of belief in god, it was eventually placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Banned Books after it was published.

Nevertheless, this book established Spinoza as one of Western philosophy’s most distinguished thinkers. He was credited for writing the “last indisputable Latin masterpiece.” For his contributions to the academic discipline of philosophy, he was named the “prince of philosophers” by Gilles Deleuze.

Desiderius Erasmus

Erasmus was born in 1466 in either the city of Rotterdam or Gouda and become an important scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style.

His important Bible translations of the Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament would be instrumental in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation that would raise many valid questions. 

His main goal while translating Biblical texts was to stay true to the original manuscripts while at the same time bringing a fresh perspective to the writing style that would be easier to read for many.

Throughout his lifetime, Erasmus helped people in need due to the fact that he viewed this as a Christian duty. He is known for being one of the first humanists.

Erasmus was not only known for his contributions to Biblical translation but also for his other works such as On Free Will, Handbook of a Christian Knight, Julius Exclusus and In Praise of Folly which would prove to be his most famous literary accomplishment.

In Praise of Folly is well appreciated for its humour and the fact that its the first book that was written in a less serious and less structured way. This literary work is still studied and often read in secondary schools by interested students.

Hugo Grotius

the best philosophers Grotius’ contributions to natural law and his theories on this subject are still being studied today by many philosophy students. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Also known as Huig de Groot or Hugo de Groot was born in 1583 in Delft, Holland.

His main philosophical interests included philosophy of war, international law and political philosophy.

He was known as a teenage intellectual prodigy and was imprisoned very young for his participation and active voice in the intra-Calvinist disputes happening during his youth in the Dutch Republic. Most of his important works that are known today were written while he was in exile in France.

Grotius’ ideas about a country being governed and protected by laws and mutual agreements with over sovereign states to enforce these laws would replace the main practice of geographic areas being governed by force or military. 

His ideas of an international society contributed to the first general peace settlement in modern times which was known as the Peace of Westphalia.

Grotius wrote many works during his lifetime and his contributions to natural law theories are what he is best known for today by many philosophy students.

Cornelius de Pauw

Born in Amsterdam in 1739, de Pauw spent most of his life in Kleve which is now Germany.

Throughout his lifetime he was viewed as one of the great experts on the Americas both North and South. He never visited the continents but wrote many theories about the origins of native people in these parts of the world.

He often rejected the ideas and theories of more experienced specialists if they differed with his own preconceived ideas. His works and thoughts about American culture were translated into English to educate inexperienced ones about natives living in the Americas and the fact that they were inferior to those originating from Europe due to climate and geography.

During his lifetime, Cornelius de Pauw has the reputation of being Europe’s most trusted authority on the Americas. 

Some of his beliefs included the rejection of the existence of the Aztec calendar and the strong conviction that China was not a previous colony of Ancient Egypt.

Geert Groote

Groote was born in Deventer Netherlands but spent much of his early life studying in the French cities of Aachen and Paris. After his professional studies were done, he settled down in Cologne to teach philosophy and theology.

As a young man, Groote felt he was becoming selfish and living a very secular and luxurious life. This realization led to becoming a more caring individual who further dedicated his life to god and became a deacon preaching as a missionary in many Dutch cities.

Many young men flocked to him for spiritual guidance and this resulted in the formation of the society known as the Brethren of the Common Life. This organization had members who gave up their previous secular lives to live a chaste and strict life in commonly shared houses who devoted all of their time to preaching, reading the scriptures and accomplishing good deeds for others.

Groote and his associate, Floren Radewyns, created a movement known as Devotio Moderna. This involves the constant search for inner peace by denying one’s self and by achieving complete silence.

Christiaan Huygens

great minds of the world Huygens is regarded by many as being one of the greatest scientists of all time. His work in natural philosophy is notable and worthy of recognition. (Source: Visual Hunt)

A native from The Hague, Netherlands, Huygens is widely regarded by many as being one of the greatest scientists of all time.

He is mainly known for his revolutionary contributions to physics, mathematics and astronomy. His inventions equally changed the world and were greatly welcomed by all. 

Huygens studied the rings of Saturn and discovered its moon, Titan. His invention of the Huygenian eyepiece improved the design of the telescope and his creation of the pendulum clock, in 1656, was a breakthrough in timekeeping and was the most accurate way to tell time for over 300 years.

He was the leading natural philosopher in Europe between Descartes and Newton. During his lifetime, he worked on mechanical philosophy and sought the explanations of the force of gravity that avoided action at a distance.

Huygens never married and dedicated his entire life to the exploration of different topics in natural philosophy such as the laws of motion, impact and gravitation, optics and horology.

Dirck Coornhert

Born in 1522 in Amsterdam, Coornhert is known for writing, philosophy, theology and engraving. His contributions to these fields of study have made him a Dutch national treasure with many calling him “a father of Dutch literature” and the Father of Dutch Renaissance scholarship.

He was a poet and playwright who learnt Latin to translate certain works from Latin to the Dutch language.

Instead of writings his literary works in Latin, which was very common back in the day, Coornhert wrote about topics such as theology, morality, criminal law and constitution in Dutch. This simple detail contributed to improving and enriching the Dutch language.

In 1586, he published his original masterpiece Zedekunst (Art of Ethics) which can still be read today. He was an extremely tolerant and compassionate person who was known for his intense work ethic and for being a humanist.

Bernard Mandeville

Born in the Netherlands but he spent the majority of his professional life living in England. The grand majority of his works were published in English. He is known for being a philosopher, political economist and satirist.

His most recognized work is titled, The Fable of the Bees. This work was originally published in 1705 as a poem and then a prose commentary with an essay in 1714. The later edition of the essay criticised charity schools that are designed to educate children from poorer social classes and he claimed by doing this virtue and greed is instilled in these pupils.

Mandeville’s writings were heavily criticized by readers and other writers who claimed that his observations were cynical and degrading to others. 

He claimed that virtue which is the “every performance by which man, contrary to the impulse of nature, should endeavour the benefit of others, or the conquest of his own passions, out of a rational ambition of being good” is extremely harmful to the intellectual and economic growth of a society.

Gerardus Heymans

Heymans was a native of Ferwert Netherlands who taught as a professor at Groningen University from 1890 to 1927. He is most commonly known by others as a philosopher and psychologist.

He studied political economics and the philosophical study of Ethics as a student. 

His psychological theories and previous studies helped him develop the Heymans’ system of personality classification. The cube of Heymans focuses on the eight different temperaments such as passionate, sentimental, neurotic, choleric, phlegmatic, apathetic, sanguine and amorphous.

The three distinct axes are the activity (energy and quantity of action), emotivity (strength and frequency of emotional response) and secondarity (the degree to which emotions or events have a long-term effect on someone).

This personality classification cube was inspired by Jung and Kretschmer and used frequently by psychology enthusiasts, during its time, in Dutch-speaking countries.

Jacob Moleschott

Born in the Netherlands but spent a considerable amount of time in Germany studying to become a doctor and in Italy in his senior days teaching as a professor.

Moleschott has published several important works such as Kreislauf des Lebens (The Circuit of Life) in 1852 and his journal entires published from 1857 to 1894 titled Untersuchungen zur Naturlehre des Menschen und der Thiere(Research on the Natural Philosophy of Man and the Animals). 

He is remembered and noted for his belief in the material basis of emotion and thought. Moleschott also demanded “scientific answers to scientific questions” throughout his studies and research. 

His studies on nutrition and dietetics were extremely important for developing the specific field of physiological chemistry. Especially what he discovered above blood and metabolism.

Although he studied much about the body and its functions, he was an atheist famously quoted saying, “no phosphorus, no thought.”

The Netherlands has been the birthplace of many intelligent minds from past centuries. These men have contributed to discovering new concepts and influencing the thoughts of forward thinkers for generations to come.

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