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Scholasticism, Enlightenment, and the Problem of Print: The Mediality of the Debate about Benito Jerónimo Feijoo’s Teatro crítico universal

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image of Erudition and the Republic of Letters

Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, the major proponent of the Enlightenment in Spain, straddled two worlds and two traditions of intellectual discourse–the Enlightened public sphere and the traditional scholasticism of the university–and this had implications for how he addressed his opponents and ordered his thoughts. In this article, I will show that while appearing to break with traditional protocols, he subtly played with some of their core notions. At the same time, I will link his concept for his Teatro crítico universal as a theatre of errors to Pierre Bayle’s plans for his Historical and Critical Dictionary. In the debate that raged about the Teatro for almost a quarter of a century, it was Feijoo’s opponents who held him to the standards of dialectical debate, in particular to honouring the status controversiae. Finally, I will show that one of the most surprising features of this debate is that the supposedly conservative and progressive sides concurred in its most salient (meta-)issue: the legitimacy of new ideas. Both did not shy away from forfeiting traditional philosophical privileges.

Affiliations: 1: Freie Universität Berlin,


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