Modern Science and the Demagification of the World

A study day organized by the Center for European Philosophy

When? Thursday 29 March 2018, 14:00-20:00

Where? University of Antwerp, Stadscampus, Room S.004, Lange Sint-Annastraat 7, 2000 Antwerpen

Description and program

Classical theories in a range of disciplines have often equated science with the progressive ‘disenchantment’ or ‘demagification’ of the world. Leaving aside the degree to which this accurately represents the view of Max Weber, Auguste Comte, or James Frazer, the authority of one or the other theorist is often martialed to further the claim that a central, if not defining, feature of modern science is that it dispels magic or superstitious thinking.

This study day is devoted to a critical reexamination of the relationship between magic and modern science. It will start with an attempt to find good working definitions of (natural) magic and (modern) science and apply them to illuminating texts of Paracelsus and Francis Bacon. Subsequently, two different interpretations will be developed. One will consider the view of the gradual elimination of magic from the early modern scientific worldview, offering readings of Descartes, Spinoza and Balthasar Bekker in support. The other will argue that the assumption of a strict dichotomy between magic and modern science is essentially mistaken and that the narrative of the disenchantment of the world is a myth. Finally, the question of the relationship between magic and modern science will be brought up for plenary discussion.

14:00 Magic and the Scientific Revolution: Paracelsus and Francis Bacon

15:00 Early Modern Science and the Demagification of the World: Descartes, Spinoza and Balthasar Bekker

16:00 Coffee Break

16:30 Jason Josephson-Storm (Williams College), “Problems of Demarcation between Magic and Modern Science” (Skype lecture and Q&A)

18:00 Walking dinner

19:00 Plenary Discussion

Practical information

No prior reading or preparation is required. All the study material will be provided in printed and electronic form at the start of the study day.

Participation fee: €20 (course material and catering included), to be paid in advance.

Registration: please write an e-mail to confirm your participation before Tuesday 27 March to

Course coordinators: Herbert De Vriese and Guido Vanheeswijck (University of Antwerp)

This study day is part of series of lectures and study days devoted to a critical analysis of philosophical discourse on re-enchantment. For more information, follow this link.