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Nieuwentijt, Bernard

1. Dates
Born: Westgraftdijk (North Holland), 10 Aug 1654
Died: Purmerend (North Holland), 30 May 1718
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 64
2. Father
Occupation: Cleric
Emmanuel Nieuwentijt, the pastor in Westgraftdijk.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Dutch
Career: Dutch
Death: Dutch
4. Education
Schooling: Leiden; Utrecht, M.D.
His father expected him to follow the ministry. It is unclear whether initially he enrolled in Leiden in theology, but he certainly found medicine quickly and switched. Later that year he also enrolled in Utrecht in medicine, and he earned his M.D. already in 1676. I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
He was an elder in the church at Purmerend.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Chemistry
As a student Nieuwentijt was converted to Cartesianism; his medical thesis was a Cartesian, mechanistic exposition of the functioning of the body, with eclectic borrowings from other traditions such as iatrochemistry. Not too much later Nieuwentijt became disenchanted with Cartesianism, partly because he saw it as an avenue to atheism, and partly because he rebelled against its rationalism in favor of a strictly empirical, experimental approach to science.
Nieuwentijt was one of the early supporters of Newtonian science on the continent.
In 1694-1700 he engaged in a dispute with Leibniz on the foundations of the calculus. His views are now beginning to be examined by philosophers with interest. His Analysis infinitorum was the first comprehensive exposition of the calculus.
He won early recognition for his microscopic observations.
One of his major works, Het recht gebruik, 1714, (in its English translation The Religious Philosopher, or the Right Use of Contemplating the Works of the Creator) was an enormous (1000 pages) demonstration of the existence of God and the correctness of Christianity by teleological arguments.
His other major work, The Foundations of Certainty, published posthumously, 1720, was an assault on Spinoza which insisted on the primacy of empiricism over rationalism. This work is now receiving serious attention.
In Het recht gebruik Nieuwentijt made it clear that he had a chemical laboratory and that he made frequent use of it.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, City Magistrate, Personal Means
Secondary: Government
After obtaining his medical degree, Nieuwentijt settled in Westgraftdijk to practice medicine. Before long he moved to the more significant neighboring city of Purmerend, where he was from the beginning and for the rest of his life city physician with a salary of 100 guilders. By every indication the medical practice flourished.
Not long after he arrived in Purmerend he married the wealthy widow of a patrician. That very year he was elected a member of the city council; he later served as burgomaster and represented the city in the States of Holland. I gather that there was a second marriage to another wealthy widow, which cannot have injured his material position.
His career was a steady progression upwards into the ruling elite of Holland and thus of the United Provinces.
8. Patronage
Type: None
Nieuwentijt's marriage into the town's most prominent family immediately projected him into the ruling elite of one of the principal cities of Holland. After brief hesitation I do not care to call this patronage, although it is obviously a closely related social phenomenon. Beyond that I find nothing. Nieuwentijt appears to have ridden a very successful medical practice, and a very fortunate marriage, into affluence (I really think wealth might be the better word) and position.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
In Purmerend, in the mid 90's, he organized a "college" (i.e., a society of some sort, evidently informal) of experimentation.
  1. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek.
  2. R.H Vermij, "Bernard Nieuwentijt als experimentator," Tijdschrift voor de geschiedenis der geneeskunde, naturwetenschappen, wiskunde en techniek, 10 (1987), 81-9.
  3. R.H. Vermij, "Inleiding," in Bernard Nieuwentijt. Een zekere, zakelijke wijsbegeerte, (Baarn, 1988).
  4. A.J.J. Vandevelde, "Bijdrage tot de bio-bibliographie van Bernard Nieuwentijt (1654-1718)," Bijdragen en mededeelingen Koninklijke Vlaamsche Academie van Taal- en Letterkunde, (1916), 709-18.
  5. G.A. Lindeboom, Dutch Medical Biography.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. J. Vercruysse, "Frans onthaal voor een Nederlandse apologeet: Bernard Nieuwentijt - 1654-1718," Tijdschrift van de Frije Unversiteit te Brussel, 11 (1968-9), 97-120.
  2. Rienk H. Vermij, Secularisering en natuurwetenschap in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw: Bernard Nieuwentijt, (Amsterdam, 1991).
  3. J. Bots, Tussen Descartes en Darwin. Geloof en Natuurwetenschap in de achttiende eeuw in Nederland, (Assen, 1972).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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