Arnold Geulincx

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Arnold Geulincx was a rationalist philosopher. He was a lecturer in logic in Leiden (October 1662), and an extraordinary professor (1665) in the Leiden Statencollege. Geulincx authored Gnôthi seauton (1675), which was edited (under the pen name ‘Philaretus’) by the physician Cornelis Bontekoe. He also authored the (unfinished) Metaphysica vera, Amsterdam, 1691. Geulincx’s Opera omnia came out in the 1890s: Land, 1891–3. See: NNBW, vol. 10, cols 282–3; DDP, vol. 1, pp. 322–31; Aalderink, 2010. There is speculation that Geulincx and Spinoza met each other, but there is no historical evidence to confirm this. Although many seventeenth and eighteenth-century authors silently aligned Geulincx with Spinoza, there is still no independent concrete information proving that he influenced him. See: Van Ruler, 1999; Aalderink, 2010, p. 400.

Geulincx considered ethics as a proper science in its own right. In his Ethica, constructed around the concept of love, he sets forth a rationalist Christian philosophy that promotes a happy, meaningful life in humility, firmly based on morals and theocentric Cartesian principles. In 1665, he made public the First Part of his treatise (on virtue, ‘the unique love of right reason’) (Geulincx, 2006, p. 16 *(ch. 1, §2,3)), in De virtute et primis ejus proprietatibus. Geulincx also edited and revised this text (dedicated to the Leiden senate) for a Dutch translation, which he published under the title Van de hooft-deuchden in 1667, the year when was appointed as extraordinary professor in the Leiden Statencollege. Whilst teaching the First Part of his ‘Ethics’ during the late 1660s, Geulincx kept writing, reordering and revising the remaining parts of his projected ethical treatise, which he issued in De finibus bonorum et malorum seu de summo bono (On the Ends of Good and Evil or On the Highest Good). This title was based on a five-part work by Cicero, called De finibus bonorum et malorum. Due to Geulincx’s death, his ‘Ethics’ remained unfinished. Consequently, Cornelis Bontekoe took up the assignment of editing and publishing the ethical system of his former Leiden supervisor under the alias ‘Philaretus’, the pen name of one of the philosophical characters in Geulincx’s Ethica. Apart from what already had been published and worked out by Geulincx himself, the foundations of Gnôthi seauton sive Ethica, the book issued by Bontekoe in 1675, were formed by Geulincx’s personal notebooks, the annotations to his own writings, and additional notes borrowed from the 1667 Dutch edition.

With respect to Geulincx’s posthumously published Ethica, it is virtually certain that Bontekoe purposely put the work of Geulincx to press in 1675, as a pre-emptive move to repulse the silent distribution of libertine Socinian and some of Spinoza’s viewpoints as well. He related the entire project undertaken by Geulincx to sit in for the unsatisfactory ‘pagan’ morale provisoire, offered by René Descartes in part 3 of his 1637 Discours de la méthode (Thijssen-Schoute, 1989, pp. 162–4). He also aimed at demolishing Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’, even before or upon its publication, by firmly promoting the Christian moral philosophy proposed by Geulincx. Acutely aware of the imminent danger of the implications of the contents of Spinoza’s book, Bontekoe was concerned that its radical metaphysical and theological notions would crucially impair great scholarly expectations in the academic community of Cartesianism to explain all natural processes by mechanical principles.

Although Bontekoe made a great effort in billing Geulincx’s ethics as an effective countermeasure to thwart the continuous moral perversion by orthodox Calvinist scholars of Cartesianism, his premonition that the silent dissemination of Socinian and spinozist notions would place the New Philosophy in a false light soon proved harsh reality. At some point, the university administration officially resolved (16 January 1676) that all professors in the academy were to observe the so-called ‘Dordtse Leerregels’. Leiden professors were also instructed to refrain immediately from speaking publicly about Cartesianism any longer, be it for or against the metaphysics of Descartes. The ethical theories of Geulincx themselves also came under heavily criticism. During the eighteenth century, he was openly disdained as a follower of Spinoza and even accused of atheism (Van Ruler, 1999, pp.92-5), and he was even named a ‘medemaat van B. de Spinoza’ (a companion of B.  de Spinoza) (Tuinman, 1715) There are some rather striking similarities between Geulincx and Spinoza—on the human soul, on the mind-body problem, on the issue of attributes and modification, the concept of entia rationis, and the absence of good and evil—but a closer relationship between Geulincx and Spinoza is undocumented and therefore only a matter of speculation. For Geulincx’s philosophy and his relation to Spinoza: Vander Haeghen, 1886; Rousset, 1999; Van Ruler, 1999, pp. 89, 95; Aalderink, 2010, p. 400.


Benedictus Spinoza, de


Cornelis Bontekoe