Transcript: 387. Helen Hattab on Protestant Philosophy

An interview with Helen Hattab on the scope and impact of scholastic philosophy among Protestants.

Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts.

Peter Adamson: We're going to talk now about Protestant philosophy, which in a sense I've been talking about for many episodes now, but I wanted to kind of step back and talk about it as a broader phenomenon. And I thought I would firstly ask you to just give the audience a sense of how extensive Protestant philosophy was, maybe especially how extensive Protestant scholasticism was. I mean, how many universities are we talking about? How many figures are we talking about? How many texts are we talking about? Printed editions versus manuscripts? And maybe, actually, maybe you could start off by just saying what kind of chronological period you want to focus on.

Helen Hattab: Yeah, so I think Protestant philosophy and Protestant scholasticism in particular, I think we're talking about a chronological period of about 1530 to 1800. That's somewhat arbitrary, but by 1530, I think we have a sort of distinct Protestant scholastic style of philosophy emerging. And this continues for quite a while into the 19th century, but 1800 is a good cutoff point, because at that point, especially in Germany, theology and philosophy start parting ways as disciplines. So the Post-Reformation digital library includes 726 works by Protestant philosophers from 1500 to 1800 versus 311 by Catholic philosophers. So that gives you some sense of how prolific they were. Now not all of these would have been scholastic texts, right? Philosophy is broader, but it does show that Protestant philosophy had a significant influence during this period. When we're talking about the university context, in Western Europe alone, you have anywhere from 35 to 40 universities for this whole period. It's a bit hard to track because some of them switch back and forth from being Protestant to Catholic during the wars. But that's sort of the range. And in the German-speaking territories, you have at least 200 professors of philosophy during this period. It's hard to get exact numbers on publications. Some of them are very prolific. So Bartholom‰us Keckermann, for example, published over 20 works, as did Jakob Martin, the Lutheran philosopher. And many of these went through multiple editions. Others only published one work during their entire careers. The other thing I want to highlight is that it's a mistake to focus just on the universities because in a lot of these Protestant territories, there was an entire educational structure built around the universities where you have preparatory studies occurring at the gymnasia and Protestant academies. And very often there was a system in place whereby the students who performed best in these preparatory schools would get scholarships to go on and study at the university level. You also have the context of Eastern Europe where the reform took hold in the early period, but then very quickly the counter-reformation was established with the Catholicism and the Orthodox Greek Church. And so you might have less universities there, but you have pockets of Protestant minorities where they're teaching Protestant philosophy, but it's often underground and less recognized. So I would say, yes, extensive.

Peter Adamson: Yeah. We're obviously talking about a really massive phenomenon here, which I think might surprise many listeners because first of all, Protestant scholastics are not famous usually. And secondly, it seems to kind of fly in the face of what a lot of people think about Protestantism because there's all this emphasis on faith and taking truth solely from scripture. And so as I said in a previous episode, you might almost think that Protestant scholastic philosophy is a contradiction in terms because you often find the Protestants complaining about scholasticism, especially Luther, but really is quite a common phenomenon amongst the Protestants. So how did the Protestant philosophers try to make space for philosophy within their broader intellectual project?

Helen Hattab: Yeah. So I think as you highlighted very well in your previous podcast on this topic, there are different approaches to engaging in philosophy even among leading reformers. So we tend to think of Calvin and Luther as the models and they're very strong in their anti-scholasticism stance, but there's a lot of variation. And I'd hesitate to generalize because it varies by context and by individual, but I would actually distinguish at least three main ways in which Protestant philosophers of this period try to engage with philosophy. One is what I would characterize as a more instrumentalist justification for philosophical engagement. And we see this especially in the early period. One has to remember that in the early period, there's a dearth of Protestant preachers and people who are trained to teach Protestant doctrine. So there's a real need to train future preachers and teachers. And there's also a recognition that these people are going to need the basic logic. So this was often at the lower levels taught through Rodolphus Agricola's logic, which is more focused on rhetoric, but at the higher levels, you need rigorous logic. And so early on already, Aristotle's Organon is appropriated and included, especially in the upper levels of the curriculum as training for future preachers and teachers of Protestantism. But you also get Aristotle's Physics and Ethics being included in the curriculum. And so you find a certain kind of justification just based on the program of searching for the truth through scripture itself, where the argument gets made. For example, Zanke makes this point that even just to be able to interpret scripture successfully, you need more than just philological skills. You need to master Aristotle's Physics and Ethics. So there's that kind of approach, which I think is quite common. As you go into the latter half of the 16th century, I would say one finds a more integrated approach where, first of all, the study of metaphysics becomes more important. And that's an important shift, whereas earlier scholastic Protestant authors tend not to focus on metaphysics. Now you see an approach where Protestant metaphysics that's also rooted in Aristotle's Metaphysics gets developed. And there's good reason for this, because by the second half of the 16th century, the perceived threat to Protestant theology is no longer so much Catholicism, but anti-Trinitarianism. And so you have all these heretical Protestants that are taking refuge in Poland and Hungary and Transylvania, and they're publishing these anti-Trinitarian arguments. And for that, to counteract that, you really need to dive deeply into metaphysics, into substance theory, into theories of individuation, personhood. And so you start seeing the emergence of a distinctly Protestant metaphysics, but one that's still rooted in Aristotle's metaphysics. So a good example is Bartholom‰us Keckermann, who publishes his Compendious System of the Science of Metaphysics in 1609. The only earlier Aristotelian metaphysics commentary is on the Lutheran side in 1605 by Cornelius Martin, who was a professor at Helmstedt. But Keckermann uses a different kind of justification. So first of all, he characterizes metaphysics as the science of being, which being for him is the thing, 'res,' taken absolutely and generally. And he has the instrumentalist justification for the study of metaphysics, but he also considers it necessary for the study of math, physics, and even theology, because you can't understand these species of being, he argues, without understanding being in general. And so he has this nice quote in the Compendium where he writes, quote, "nobody in theology will completely explain the doctrine of the essence of God and the modes of existing in God or the three persons unless he would be a metaphysician." So that's a sort of a stronger incorporation of metaphysics in particular, justified by theologists and seen as integral to Protestant theology. And then the third approach I would characterize as eclectic. And these are often figures who, through their philosophical explorations, end up with very non-orthodox views. So Nicholas Torellis is one. Sebastien Basson, who was teaching at a Huguenot Academy in Dix, France, is another. And they are not shy to incorporate not just Aristotelian views, but views of Neoplatonic philosophers, Atomism, Stoicism. And sometimes it's argued for on the basis of: these are more consistent to theological doctrine. Sometimes it's sort of where their philosophical reasoning leads them. And these figures, often they end up with conflicts and condemned by theologians and philosophers, but they find refuge in disciplines like medicine. So for example, Torellis, his triumph of philosophy is work in metaphysics, which he published in 5673, is condemned by Lutheran theologians, but he's still able to get a position teaching natural philosophy and medicine at the University of Altdorf. So that, I said, is another approach where the engagement with philosophy continues, but perhaps outside the official confines of philosophy and theology programs.

Peter Adamson: Okay. Thanks. That was amazing. A podcast episode in one answer, that was brilliant. Let me ask you a couple of questions about how the Protestant scholastics compare to the Catholics. And maybe we could start by going back to the issue about the educational curriculum at the schools and universities. Was that curriculum different for Protestants than it was by Catholics? For example, were they more influenced by humanism?

Helen Hattab: Yeah, I think there are both important continuities and differences compared to Catholic institutions at this time. And I want to make a bit of a distinction between the Lutheran and Calvinist territories, because for Lutheran universities, we could see that many just largely followed Melanchthon's educational plan, which was more humanist in its orientation. Though, as I said, it did include the study of logic, often Aristotle's logic at the higher levels, and also Aristotle's physics and ethics. I think aside from the emphasis on philology. So obviously, the languages were more important in the Protestant educational curriculum. So mastering Greek, mastering Hebrew. At the University of Leiden - this is now getting into the reformed territories, even offered Arabic, which was something novel. So that was an innovation. But the other thing you notice is a greater emphasis on mathematics. So for example, Johannes Kepler, who studied at the University of Tubingen, and he studied theology, gained a very excellent education in mathematics and astronomy from his mathematics professor there. And I think Charlotte Methion has made a good case that for him, it feeds into his theology. Mathematics is not something separate. So there are those differences. But in the Lutheran context, at least, the structure of Lutheran universities remained very similar to the medieval university, where you have a structure where you start with a trivium, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, then the quadrivium, the geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, harmonics. And then you have the courses in philosophy, which are designed to prepare you for the higher studies of law, medicine, and of course, theology is the highest discipline. It's somewhat different in the reformed territories. One thing that you find in France are Huguenot academies that had a special interest in training the nobility, the upper classes. And so they offered courses not just in classical studies, law, and politics, but also in sports, riding, and fencing. And this model was copied in German reformed territories, but also in the Dutch Republic, where they actually had French schools that trained businessmen, craftsmen, and even women in French language and culture. The other thing that's distinctive about the Dutch Republic, well, two things. First of all, trade and maritime business was very important. You also have a great emphasis on teaching mathematics and engineering, mechanics, and things like that. But also, since the Dutch government was funding and supporting reformed institutions, you had a pretty tight institutional control. So not only uniformity of curriculum, but also the aims of education included teaching civilized manners, piety, behavior, and ethics for Christian life. One last thing I want to highlight is the University of Leiden is an interesting case because it actually has a different structure from what you would find in a Lutheran university or your typical medieval university. And that could be a function of when it was founded. It was established in 1575 as a Calvinist academy with a very humanist curriculum. And it became a university in 1597. So what was interesting about it is instead of having this hierarchy where theology sits at the top, there were four main faculties that were all on the same footing. So there was the faculty of philosophy, liberal arts, and mathematics that was actually on the same footing as the faculties of law, medicine, and theology rather than being in the subordinate position. The other interesting development was because they were trying to attract students from all over Europe, they very quickly changed the statutes to only require the oath and allegiance to Calvinism of theology students. And for the rest, they accepted students of all religious persuasions, including Jews and Sassinians. And in the early 17th century, actually, the students there rebelled. They rebelled against the humanist program, insisting that they wanted to be taught Aristotelian works which were taught all over Europe and other universities. And they actually changed the curriculum and began teaching scholastic philosophy based on the works of Suarez. So again, a lot of variation across regions and there's confessional differences. But definitely in the earlier period, humanism is much more prominent and then we move to an Aristotelian curriculum.

Peter Adamson: This is what I'd like to see from today's undergraduates, that they would rebel against their university masters by saying, we want more Aristotle. And let me ask you another question about the relationship to the Catholics. So rather than like the structure and curriculum, really about the philosophical positions they take. I mean, there's some issues where they line up on one side if they're Protestants, another side if they're Catholics, like theory of grace, for example, would be the obvious case, or papal authority. It's obvious that the Catholics have a different view than the Protestants. But does that kind of run down the line with a whole range of philosophical topics? So like, if I ask a Catholic about the soul, I get one kind of answer. And if I ask a Protestant, I should expect to get another kind of answer and the same thing for theories of substance and so on. Or is it more like it's kind of a mix and match on both sides so that you can have the same debate happening within Protestant scholasticism that's happening across the mountains with Catholic scholasticism?

Helen Hattab: I have the sense that there is a significant number of debates, positions and arguments that cut across confessional divides. And this may be too small a sampling, but I've worked quite intensely on two different topics that I think illustrate this. So first, on the question of philosophical method, you have Bartolomeos Keckermann and then Franco Bergerstein, professor of logic and philosophy at the University of Leiden, who are among the most commonly used writers of logic textbooks of the period, especially going into the 17th and then 18th centuries. Their textbooks on logic are everywhere. And in those textbooks, one finds a conception of method that is very much informed by the writings of the Italian Renaissance philosopher Jacopo Zabarella, whose writings on logic and method were extremely influential. And what Zabarella does, he distinguishes between the syllogistic method, the method of demonstration that you find in Aristotle's Organon, and method as what he calls order or ordering, where there's this other sense of method, which he characterizes as an aptitude for ordering the parts of a discipline so as to better be able to learn and teach it. And Keckermann and Bergerstein both take up this basic division and then sort of develop this idea of method as order in a different way from Zabarella. But the basic structure that they have for how they conceive of logic and the parts of logic and what those parts of logic are supposed to do, I mean, it's straight out of Zabarella. And so this is just one example where you have an issue that was very hotly debated, especially in the 16th century with the advent of Ramist method and alternatives to scholastic Aristotelianism. And by the late 16th, early 17th century, you have sort of kind of this dominant view of Zabarella as being taken up on both sides for how to think about method and logic. Another example is a very contentious topic during the late 16th century of what is it that individuates substances, right? What is it that makes you and me distinct substances on the Aristotelian view, even though kind of we're members of the same species, the human species. And by the end of the 16th century, you have eight different views on what individuates substances, at least eight that are hotly debated, many inherited from medieval philosophers. But by the early 17th century, when you read textbooks and commentaries where this becomes a bigger and bigger issues, like more and more pages are devoted to this question of the individual substances, you find by the early 17th century, there are three standard positions that are all refuted, right? The Thomist view that follows Aquinas, the Scotus view that follows John Duns Scotus, and the nominalist view. Those are all rejected, whether Catholic or Protestant, you find that those are most often just rejected using similar arguments. And then there's a small range of views developed in the Renaissance. One is Zabarella's, one is by the Jesuit philosopher Pedro da Fronseca, and the other is Francisco Suarez's view, another Jesuit philosopher. And these become the options that people will argue for. And it cuts across the confessional divide, Catholic, Protestant, even within the same confession, you find different views being taken. But it's always the same range of views. So I do suspect that once we have more research on this, that we'll find, especially in the later period, that you can't predict on a lot of topics, you can't really predict what position a philosopher will take merely based on confession.

Peter Adamson: That's really interesting, and I think very surprising too. Actually, in general, you've painted a kind of surprising picture here, although it's one that definitely sounds like the same picture I've gotten from doing all the reading to write the scripts for the podcast. Namely that whereas you might have expected scholastic philosophy in all of these areas of Europe where Protestantism took hold, you might have expected scholastic philosophy to just kind of collapse like a house of cards. In fact, what we get is much more a picture of stability, albeit with variation between the confessions and geographical zones. But I guess that if we want to really convince people that it's interesting to study Protestant philosophy, it might be good to give you examples of things that are new. So if I asked you to give me an example of one or two ideas that emerge in Protestant scholastic writings that really seem worth digging into, what would you say?

Helen Hattab: Yeah, I think there are two areas where Protestant philosophy and theology made distinct contributions in terms of novelty. That is the theories of matter and space. Some of it traces back to the problem of the Eucharist. So what all Protestants have in common is they reject the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, where the substance of the bread and the wine changes to Christ's substance, but we keep the outer appearance of the bread and the wine because the accidental features of the bread and the wine are still there. I mean, they all reject that doctrine. Then the problem becomes how do you account for the Eucharist without appropriating this doctrine of transubstantiation? Here I think there are some interesting innovations that have some quite profound implications for matter theory and for theories of place and space. So one view is taken by Calvin and Zwingli, where they end up rejecting the Aristotelian view that quantitative features, including spatial features like the body's dimension and its length, breadth, and depth, and then its spatial features, they reject the Aristotelian view that these are accidental to body. For them, place is an essential property of body. It's inseparable from it. And then they have different ways of accounting for the Eucharist based on that. Zwingli just bites the bullet and says, well, because it's a contradiction to say that Christ's body can occupy the same place as the body of the bread and the wine, right? And it can't be in two places at once. We have to say Christ is present symbolically. Calvin has some different solution. But what's important here is that this kind of way of thinking about the Eucharist promotes a different view of body. And by the 17th century, it becomes common among 17th century Calvinist philosophers to talk about bodies as being essentially quanta, right? So the quantitative features of body are essential to body. They're inseparable from their dimension and also their locatedness. And I think this sets up Descartes' later very influential definition of matter as res extensa, right? As something, a substance that's essentially extended in length, breadth and depth. It also indirectly makes Protestant philosophers more receptive to atomist theories of matter. So I don't think it's an accident that you have figures like Sebastian Basson and David Gorlaeus who are in the early 17th century developing systematic atomist natural philosophies. And for Gorlaeus at least, I mean, he regards his atomism as more consistent with theology than Aristotelianism. He argues against substantial forms and the matter just on partially theological as well as philosophical grounds. The other side of this story is the Lutheran approach to the Eucharist, which I also think is significant in changing, especially the conception of space, because Luther famously develops the doctrine of ubiquity according to which Christ's body upon his extension comes to share in divine omnipresence. And so he argues for the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine by saying Christ's body can be simultaneously at all the altars at once. Now this is miraculous, obviously, but it has this interesting result of creating a wider gap between the concept of a body and its locatedness. So whereas I think for the Calvinists, space, place, quantitative features and body sort of come together, they come closely together, which has interesting implications. On the Lutheran view there's a bigger distinction. And this at least then makes it possible to reject this Aristotelian view that you don't have place without body, right? It becomes possible to think of space as something independent from body and bodies moving around in that space and even maybe occupy multiple spaces. So I think that that's a very significant way in which unwittingly these sort of theological developments introduce changes into philosophical thinking that become quite important for the scientific revolution.

Peter Adamson: Yeah, that's been a leitmotif of the whole series so far that, and maybe even going all the way back to medieval philosophy, but certainly what we've looked at in the Reformation so far shows that over and over these debates that we might think of as primarily or even exclusively theological have these larger knock on philosophical implications in political philosophy or even physics, as you just said. You just gave us an example there of how these debates that started within Protestant scholasticism then had an impact on 17th century philosophers that listeners might've been more familiar with before they came to the podcast, like Descartes, for example. So can I finish by asking you a kind of unfair question, which is what the broader impact and relevance of Protestant philosophy is for the 17th century, just looking ahead?

Helen Hattab: The influence has been neglected and underrated. I think it's sometimes difficult to draw very precise causal connections, though in my book, Descartes on Forms and Mechanisms, I think I make a good case that Descartes was a very at least familiar with key ideas in Gorlaeus, where Gorlaeus' way of defining a substance versus a mode is very close to Descartes. And you can actually show that, well, Descartes would have known about this doctrine that is found in Gorlaeus. It's often, though, very hard to make kind of those exact causal connections, but I just published a chapter in the Blackwell Companion to Hobbes' philosophy in which I make the case that the sort of conception of method as an ordering that is very pronounced in Protestant logic, and Protestant scholasticism is also found in Hobbes' conception of method. I've just spoken about matter theory, the fact that Protestant thinking creates these spaces where it frees philosophers to think beyond kind of the standard Aristotelian or existing positions on things like matter theory or space or place. And so I think that there's a lot more research to be done, but my sense is that the kinds of philosophical developments that we're seeing in the 16th century in Protestant philosophy and scholasticism set up a kind of framework that you find in canonical early modern philosophers, maybe not in the exact form, but it opens up a whole range of possibilities. 


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