Steven Nadler

Dutch Art & Design Today

30-09-2023 • 1時間 13分

'Spinoza is a great portal to the Dutch Republic; because with Spinoza you have to look at Jewish Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. And if you start looking at Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, you’re drawn to the art. If you’re drawn to the art you become aware of the social and economic context. It’s really like looking through the looking glass. Once you’re in, you’re in.’

—Steven Nadler

For the sixteenth episode of Dutch Art & Design Today, I sat down with Steven Nadler, who is a philosopher, a historian of philosophy, an all-around interesting academic, as well as a professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where he is also the Director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities. Steven completed his BA at Washington University in St. Louis, and then returned to his hometown of Manhattan to complete his MA and PhD at Columbia University, where he wrote his dissertation on the French philosopher Antoine Arnauld. Steven has studied and written extensively on the history of philosophy in Early Modern Europe, particularly concerning Descartes and Spinoza. Over the years, a through line in his teaching and writing has been the seventeenth century as it relates to the Dutch Republic; for instance, concerning the stay of Descartes in the republic, and his interactions with politicians, thinkers, and artists, such as the painter Frans Hals. Steven also has an interest in the Jewish population of Amsterdam during the same time period, and in 2003, published a book titled Rembrandt's Jews, for which he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

In this hour-long discussion, Steven and I first revisit his move to the Midwest for his undergraduate degree, and then his return to New York City for his graduate and doctoral degrees, and what his student days were like in both locations. We then move on to talk about how his dissertation lead him to study Descartes, and the seventeenth century in general, and why he finds the era so fascinating from a philosophical point of view, and what was happening in Amsterdam and Haarlem, during this period of time. Steven then explains the methodologies that he uses to approach his work, and how they allow him to combine several figures and topics that interest him, in a way that makes his work accessible beyond those only interested in philosophy. We then zoom in on his books on Frans Hals, and how he used a well-known trove of archival documents, to wrap the biography of Hals around some of his more celebrated paintings, to write the first biographical study of Hals in Haarlem. To conclude, Steven explains how philosophy is useful to the world today, and how knowing it results in better choices, better ways of thinking which together leads to, as he puts it, "better living through philosophy".'

You can learn more about Steven and his work and books, over on his ⁠website⁠.

You can also find out more about Steven's teaching on his university's website.

You can find John on X @johnbezold and at his website

'Dutch Art & Design Today' is published by Semicolon-Press.