Early Modern Subjects and the Self-Conception of Philosophy in Germany 1556-1599



Abstract. The paper discusses the concept of a subject as an actor’s category in early modern philosophy and asks whether contemporary notions of subjectivity can be meaningfully related to this early modern understanding of the concept. When thinking about the early modern subject as an actor’s category, we must distinguish three different meanings: the subject as a bearer of properties, as a reference point for predication, and as the foundation of a discipline. The paper defends the thesis that crucial elements of subjectivity in the modern sense, namely reflexivity and selfawareness, are at the same time characteristic features of a certain understanding of the subject of philosophy as a discipline in the early
modern sense: namely for conceptions of philosophy as a transformation of the soul, most notably as a ‘medicine of the soul’.
Such conceptions are, however, controversial: other early modern thinkers contend that such proposals do not conform to what we should expect from a definition of philosophy and that they are open to the objection of intellectualism: we need more than knowledge to better our souls, because knowledge in itself is not action-guiding.
The paper traces conceptions of the subject of philosophy not only in various Ramist tracts, but also in writings of Melanchthon’s son-inlaw Heinrich Paxmann, the Helmstedt professor Duncan Liddell, and Reformed thinkers like Fortunatus Crell and Bartholomaeus Keckermann.

Keywords: meta-philosophy, early modern, Germany, Heinrich Paxmann, Bartholomaeus Keckermann, Fortunatus Crell, Duncan Liddell, Ramism

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