Charlatan epistemology: As illustrated by a study of wonder-working in the late seventeenth-century Dutch Republic
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 January 2022
This article highlights the epistemic concerns that have permeated the historical discourse around charlatanism. In it, I study the term “charlatan” as a multivalent actor’s category without a stable referent. Instead of defining or identifying “the charlatan,” I analyze how the concept of the charlatan was used to make epistemic interventions about what constituted credible knowledge in two interconnected controversies. Focusing on these controversies allows me to thematize how the concept of “the charlatan” expanded beyond medical contexts and to bring a history of knowledge perspective to the history of medicine.
The title of the article, “Charlatan Epistemology,” indicates a historical epistemological approach to charlatanism as well as the existence of a charlatan’s embodied epistemology. On the one hand, I historicize the epistemic characteristics of charlatanism, focusing on virtues as well as vices, knowledge as well as ignorance, by addressing the historical and contextual specificities of two case studies and the larger epistemic concerns at play. On the other hand, I show how references to charlatanism implied the existence of specific embodied knowledges, special skills and techniques to manipulate either natural secrets or the human psyche, and I explore the similarities and differences between charlatan epistemology and artisanal epistemology.
- Research Article
- © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press