Charlatans and the making of research: the undisciplining and redisciplining of experimental philosophy in seventeenth-century Europe – Vera Keller (University of Oregon)

November 11, 2021 @ 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
Mill Lane Lecture Room 9
Richard Staley

This talk explores the making of academic experimental philosophy as the product of a century-long dynamic that began with the undisciplining of knowledge. The ancient concept of discipline sought to protect the transmission of knowledge from master to disciple, crystallizing forms of knowledge in distinct structures and hierarchies meant to preserve them unharmed through the tempests of time. Whereas the early modern period is often interpreted as a time of social and epistemic disciplining, I argue that in fact it demonstrates the undisciplining of knowledge as the authority of masters and distinct boundaries between forms of knowledge were rebuffed. Undisciplining produced hybrid forms of knowledge drawn from across a wide social and epistemic hierarchy, such as the ‘experimental philosophy’ that first appeared in England in the 1630s. A case in point was the trend for integrating the performances of wandering ‘charlatans’ – waterspouters, fire-eaters, and sword-swallowers – into experimental study. Undisciplined forms of knowledge posed a challenge for seventeenth-century German pedagogues who sought to introduce English-style experimental philosophy into their curricula and who established the first chairs of experimental philosophy. These academics developed new infrastructures for working playful, unstable and heterogeneous experimental philosophy (including the performances of charlatans) into an academic framework. In so doing, I argue, they transformed practices of disciplinarity as a whole, framing knowledge as both transmissible and changing, that is, as research.

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