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Faculties of the Mind. The Rise of Facultative Logic at the University of Louvain

This project, which will take the form of a PhD thesis submitted by Steven Coesemans, will use the student notebooks from a historical point of view.

The seventeenth and eighteenth century in the Low Countries have been an especially turbulent period, especially from the viewpoint of intellectual history. Institutions with a largely medieval structure, such as the University of Leuven, provide education in the form of a scholastic curriculum. In the mid-seventeenth century, the entirety of Aristotelian tradition was vehemently challenged by René Descartes, in his Discours de la méthode, Meditationes de prima philosophia and Principia philosophiæ. Learned men throughout the Low Countries, and throughout Western Europe in general, would have to take sides in a heated debate between the scholastic, medieval tradition and the new Cartesian philosophy. Aristotelian scholars such as Fromondus and Plempius wrote against followers of the new system, such as Geulincx and Van Gutschoven. Not only metaphysics were the subject matter of the debate, but also natural science, logic, and the theological consequences of the positions these various scholars took.

It is no surprise that the Roman ecclesiastical authorities took note of this debate. The papal nuncio made it clear that the official Aristotelian doctrine would have to be followed: the Cartesian system did not account for the possibility that through divine intervention accidents could exist separately from their substance, so the transubstantiation which would occur during the Eucharist would be impossible. Descartes’ theory was thus officially discredited as heresy.


That did not strip it of its scientific merit in comparison to the scholastic system in the eye of the Leuven professors, though. It is the objective of this project to find out to what degree the Leuven professors, while claiming to teach the official doctrine, actually snuck bits of Cartesian doctrine into their courses. We do this by examining the source texts of the student notebooks of the period in question, and comparing them to each other and external sources, such as handbooks (especially the Logique de Port-Royal, which was ubiquitous in the eighteenth century).

The main focus of this project will be the notebooks dealing with logic in this period. Every student who wished to obtain a degree at the University had to study for two years at the Arts Faculty first, the first year of which was devoted to logic.


Through study of these texts, we hope not only to outline the intellectual development of the logic courses as such. We also hope to give a prosopographical account of the professors involved. Doing so, we hope to identify foreign traditions and the broader scope of cultural exchange between larger centres of education in Western Europe at the time. This will, of course, require the use of external sources and local material of the different institutes throughout Western Europe.

Date:15 Sep 2015  →  28 May 2019
Keywords:Logic, Education
Disciplines:Language studies, Literary studies
Project type:PhD project