‘Low’ culture, laymen, and what we can learn from history
View PDF Version
(Buys_Paper_ Albuquerque.pdf, 0.1MB)
Headline: Historical evidence shows strong interaction between philosophy during the late Middle Ages and Early Modernity on the one hand and the emancipation of common man and the rise of popular culture in Western Europe on the other. My aim is to shed light on the interaction between philosophy and culture from a historical point of view. I hope to show that philosophical ideas played an important role in one of the greatest shifts in Western civilization – the downfall of the traditional classes of nobles and clergymen and the rise of ‘layman’ culture during the late Middle Ages and Early Modernity. I will try to do so by considering the nature and function of vernacular philosophy in the Netherlands between 1280 and 1600. It is in this unique and highly urbanized area that some important features of popular culture and modern Western citizenship arise, such as freedom of conscience, toleration, pragmatism, and social mobility. In this process, philosophical texts in the vernacular are not merely a reflection of the common man’s world and life experience. Instead, they are clearly constructed for the moral education of people and the creation of responsible and self-conscious citizens. Moreover, one can trace some important shifts within vernacular texts over time, as vernacular philosophy tended to become more and more pointed toward societal change. On a more general level, my historical example supports the view that philosophy and culture interact with each other. Insofar as philosophy tries to answer real questions of concrete individuals relating to the world, human existence, and society, it can have a significant influence on cultural development. Our short history of the Low Countries teaches us that philosophy can make a real difference in the lives of common people and can form a dominant factor in popular culture.
This paper has been presented at a University of New Mexico conference on “Philosophy and (popular) culture”, February 17th 2007, Albuquerque, NM. The proceedings are forthcoming.
- vernacular philosophy
- middle ages
- vernacular texts
- vernacular authors