Ignorant Dutch Boys Reading German Philosophy? The Concept of Ignorance in Rhijnvis Feith’s Brieven aan Sophie (1806) and Johannes Kinker’s Brieven van Sophie aan Mr. Rhynvis Feith (1807)

Beatrix Van Dam


The reception of Enlightenment philosophy in the Netherlands has been interpreted in different ways. The idea that the Dutch completely ignored enlightened philosophy was replaced by the idea that there was a special Dutch modification of Enlightenment thought. Through analyzing concepts of ignorance in Feith’s and Kinker’s discussions about Kantianism, I show that enlightened thinking is a international, multilayered process rather than a development that can be grasped in national frames. That way in Feith’s and Kinker’s letters a clash between academic and popular philosophy becomes visible that cannot be labelled ‘Dutch’, but is a broader trend that indicates conflicting concepts of what can or should (not) be known. One strategy displayed in Feith’s letters is that of consciously ignoring Kant’s insights in order to preserve a notion of direct access to the world that is more apt to everyday experience and cultural knowledge. He tries to claim this intuitive truth by evoking a literary sphere that can deliver insights without engaging into logical argument.


ignorance / onwetendheid – Enlightenment / Verlichting – Rhijnvis Feith – Johannes Kinker – knowledge / kennis

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