In Le Monde, an article announces that the University of Utrecht has lifted a ban on the teaching of Descartes, 363 years after it was instituted. The rehabilitation occurred as part of a conference
in March on Descartes and the Academy of Utrecht.
Nicolas Weill, “Le philosophe René Descartes vient d’être «réhabilité» aux Pays-Bas”, Le Monde 25 Mar 2005; see also, in German, Christoph Lüthy, “Bis in alle Ewigkeit”, Neue Zürcher Zeitung 23 Mar 2005). For those who read Dutch, there is more in Erik Hardeman, “Descartes was snel op zijn teentjes getrapt en kon met name Voetius niet luchten of zien”, Ublad Online (Utrecht) 24 Mar 2005. For the conference, see Descartes en de Utrechtse Academie 1636-2005), whose proceedings have been published in Née Cartésienne / Cartesiaansch Gebooren, ed. W. Koops, L. Dorsman, T. Verbeek (Van Gorcum, 2005 · 9023241347).
This happy ending gives me the occasion to mention again Theo Verbeek’s project on the correspondence of Descartes. For generations, Descartes scholars have depended on the Adam-Tannery edition, which was last updated in volumes published from 1987 to 1991. Glad though we are to have such an edition (which is lacking, or has been until recently, for other major figures like Spinoza and Leibniz), it has numerous shortcomings, both in the text and in the apparatus. Verbeek and his group have done excellent work not only in editing the letters themselves, but in supplying the apparatus needed to understand them. A sample volume has been published for the year 1643, the year of Descartes’ Epistola ad Dinetum, the Admiranda methodus, a violent attack on Descartes and his philosophy by Martin Schoock,
Theo Verbeek, Erik-Jan Bos, Jeroen van de Ven, eds., The correspondence of René Descartes: 1643 (Utrecht: Zeno Institute, 2003; Quæstiones Infinitæ 45).and Descartes’ response, the Epistola ad Voetium. The volume includes an eighty-page “Biographical Lexicon” which is itself an important contribution.
Another fruit of the project is the publication of a new edition of the correspondence between Descartes and Regius (Erik-Jan Bos, The Correspondence between Descartes and Henricus Regius, available in its entirety as a pdf). In an appendix are the disputations published by Regius under the title Physiologia, sive cognitio sanitatis (Physiology, or the knowledge of health) in 1641.
See Theo Verbeek, La querelle d’Utrecht (Les Impressions Nouvelles, Paris, 1988); Dennis Des Chene, “Cartesiomania”, Perspectives on science 3 (1995), 534-581.Those disputations, with which Descartes was publicly associated, were one of the factors leading to the “quarrel of Utrecht” between Descartes and Regius, representing the new philosophy, and Voetius and Schoock, defending the old (and true religion). The recently lifted ban on the teaching of Descartes was one upshot of that quarrel. (In fact the Cartesian philosophy has been taught at Utrecht since 1650.)
Note. A new letter of Descartes was discovered by Erik-Jan Bos at the Berlin Staatsbibliothek in 2003, the first in 25 years. See “Nieuwe brief Descartes ontdekt”, Ublad Online 6.35 (10 Feb 2003). In the letter, addressed to Joachim de Wicqefort ‘op de Cinghel’ in Amsterdam and dated 2 Oct 1640, Descartes, then in Leiden, inquires about a manuscript that was in fact received by him three days later. The discovery was celebrated with champagne in Utrecht: “Je hoopt er wel op, maar als het dan echt gebeurt, is het toch iets bijzonders. We hebben hier toen wel even de champagne opengemaakt”. The article notes that in 2001 a Descartes letter sold in Germany for DM180,000 and that another was being offered in Basel for €130,000.
(This is an addendum to “A response on Descartes”.) New documents on the censure of Descartes’ works by the Catholic Church were published by Jean-Robert Armogathe and Vincent Carraud in Bulletin Cartésien 30 (2002, reviewing publications of 1999). The same issue of the Bulletin includes a report by Verbeek, Bos, and Matthijs van Otegem on the correspondance of Descartes; in it is the (Latin) text of the 1643 statutes which forbade the teaching, public or private of any philosophy departing from Aristotle’s.