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Abstract

For a long time - more or less two hundred years - the common histories of early modern philosophy have been dominated by two basic themes. The first theme is that philosophy proper is centred upon the theory of knowledge, understood as an account of the validating sources of the individual mind's ideas or judgments. The second theme is that the great significance we attach to the early-modern period is due to the dramatic clarification philosophers achieved during that period concerning the importance of epistemology. This epistemological paradigm for the writing of the history of early modern philosophy probably had several sources, just as it has had a great variety of formulations. However, it is clear that it was launched most effectively as part of two different campaigns to establish a useful past for a new philosophy, namely the philosophical historiography of the Kantians and that of the Scottish Common Sense school. The common paradigm for the history of early modern philosophy was itself a terminal outcome of that philosophy. And the success of this piece of teleological history was of course demonstrated through its dramatic conquest of Europe during the nineteenth century and through its subsequent survival value.

Once we begin to think of the epistemological paradigm in these historical terms, it is unavoidable and, perhaps, easier to try to think of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophy without that set of presuppositions. The central part of my paper consists of a number of offerings from more or less recent scholarship concerning aspects of early modern philosophy which seem to be entirely outside the horizon of traditional histories of philosophy. The point is to suggest that the very concept of philosophy whose history we purport to write is so historically variable that its identity is in question.

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