‘Low’ culture, laymen, and the vernacular traditions in the Low Countries
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In this paper, held at the British Society for the History of Philosophy conference on “Early Modern Philosophy in Britain and the Netherlands 1500 – 1800”, 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 Low Countries between 1280 and 1600. It is in this 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. In the course of this contribution, I will consider the work of Maerlant, Boendale, Potter, the rhetoricians and Coornhert. All those vernacular authors try to 'downsize' philosophy for an unlearned audience, at the same time upgrading and in fact justifying layman culture. In doing so, they contributed to the rise of a new world order, in which commoners could raise their voices more easily and shape their lives more freely.
This paper is held at the British Society for the History of Philosophy conference on “Early Modern Philosophy in Britain and the Netherlands 1500 – 1800”, March 27th 2007, Rotterdam. An earlier and shorter version of this paper has been presented at the University of New Mexico.
- vernacular philosophy
- middle ages
- vernacular texts
- vernacular authors