From Ingenium to Virtus: The Cultivation of Talent in Seventeenth Century Dissertations from Uppsala University

  • Andreas Hellerstedt Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Keywords: early modern education, ingenium, virtue ethics, humanism


This article explores the problem of innate, natural talent vs acquired skill, knowledge, and virtue in dissertations from Uppsala University around 1680. These texts have never before been studied. It discusses questions such as: how did Swedish academics of the period conceive the relationship between ingenium (innate potential) and (acquired) virtue or knowledge? Which teaching methods did they advocate? How do the texts relate to developments in seventeenth century society? The study uses a combination of contextual analysis and a ‘history of concepts’ approach to answer these questions. The analysis reveals that the Swedish dissertations respond to contemporary debates (involving well-known authorities such as Vives, Huarte, Erasmus, and Comenius) and that they were affected by the immediate context: the growth of the early modern state and the social mobility which accompanied that growth. Education is described in Renaissance humanist terms, with a clear affinity to moral philosophical concepts such as virtue and habituation. The learning process described is analogous to the acquisition of moral virtue and education itself is to a large extent legitimated with reference to moral socialization. The educational ideas put forward balance discipline and playfulness, and represent a relatively democratic view of the distribution of human capabilities, showing a great trust in the potential of education. However, there is also a distinct stress on medical explanations of differences in individual talent.

Author Biography

Andreas Hellerstedt, Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Andreas Hellerstedt is a PhD in the History of Ideas, Stockholm University, Sweden.