Johannes Swartenhengst (1644-1711): a Dutch Cartesian in the heat of battle
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This dissertation discusses the life and the writings of the seventeenth-century Dutch Cartesian Johannes Swartenhengst (1644-1711). Thus far Swartenhengst has always been an obscure and little-noticed figure in the history of the Early Dutch Enlightenment, who is only briefly mentioned in a couple of secondary sources due to his intellectual association with the Flemish philosopher Arnold Geulincx (1624-69). In recent years I have discovered fourteen previously unknown disputations that Swartenhengst presided over during his career as lector at Leiden in the early 1670s. Swartenhengst’s appointment at this university was, however, soon terminated on account of his overzealous defence of Cartesian philosophy, and no significant details have remained from his life hereafter. Although Swartenhengst’s disputations bear a somewhat concise and impersonal character (as is typical for the genre), they touch upon all the major philosophical disciplines that were then taught at the university. Swartenhengst’s dismissal occurred at a particularly heated moment, when the ecclesiastical pressure that had been building up since the political changes of 1672 now finally culminated at the university. His disputations, therefore, provide us with an interesting example of the Cartesian views that were circulating in academic circles, but which were apparently no longer tolerated. More importantly, however, Swartenhengst’s disputations also provide us with an interesting case study of the immediate continuation of Geulincx’s philosophy at Leiden, whose views soon disappeared into oblivion on account of their association with Spinozism during the early eighteenth century. Apart from offering a detailed account of Swartenhengst’s biographical details and a discussion of the major theological problems that were associated with René Descartes’ philosophy, this dissertation also includes an analysis of the content of his disputations, which focuses on the topics of occasionalism, epistemology, and natural law. Finally it will be asked how closely Swartenhengst’s disputations related to the views of his teacher Arnold Geulincx; and whether he should be labelled a ‘radical Cartesian’ on account of the content of his teaching? Although Swartenhengst was only a minor player in the history of the Early Dutch Enlightenment, the details of his life and writings certainly represent a unique and interesting story, which can also contribute to our general understanding of the period.