20 Pages

Introduction: The Creation of the Canon


So far as philosophy is concerned the seventeenth century is often described as ‘the century of genius’ and with good reason. Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke and Leibniz, themselves bracketed between Bacon and Galileo, Bayle and Newton, provide a galaxy that has left an indelible mark on our cultural history. It would not be diffi cult to add another dozen names whose place in the canon is more problematic and a host of minor fi gures whose impact was often far from negligible. It is some indication of this that the Dictionary of Seventeenth-Century British Philosophers alone contains the names of some 400 people who are reckoned to have made some kind of mark on the area of enquiry known as philosophy.1 The corresponding volumes for the Netherlands, which covers both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, list 365 such thinkers.2 Comparable volumes and fi gures for France, Germany and Italy are not yet available, but the lists are likely to be at least as extensive.