The Changing Shapes of Knowledge in Spain 1627–1726: From Dreams and Discourses to Universal Critical Theater


  • Randi Lise Davenport University of Tromsø



Epistemology, scepticism, desengaño, Francisco de Quevedo, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, Spanish intellectual history


This article illustrates the changing shapes of knowledge in Spain in the period spanning from the Baroque (ca. 1600–1680) to the pre-Enlightenment (ca. 1730). Scepticism and the dichotomies engañodesengaño (illusion – disillusion) and serparecer (reality – appearances) were at the heart of the Baroque obsession with the foundations of knowledge, which culminated in an epistemological crisis. In the pre-Enlightenment, epistemological preoccupations were directed towards error instead of desengaño, notably in the writings of the Benedictine monk Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676–1764), who was a key figure in the divulgation of the ‘new science’ and ‘new philosophy’ in Spain. The epistemic value of the concept desengaño is examined here by contrasting Feijoo’s essay on philosophical scepticism in his Teatro Crítico Universal. Discursos varios en todo género de materias, para desengaño de errores comunes (Universal Critical Theater. Varied discourses on all kinds of matters to the disillusion of common errors, 1726–1739) with the use of scepticism in the Baroque author Francisco de Quevedo’s Sueños y discursos de verdades descubridoras de abusos, vicios y engaños, en todos los oficios y estados del mundo (Dreams and discourses on truths revealing abuses, vices and deceptions in all the professions and estates of the world) published a hundred years earlier (1627).


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