Gepubliceerd op 08-04-2019

PhD Position “Idols of the Mind: Modern Variations on a Baconian Theme, 1800-2000”

Job description

As per September 1, 2019, the Leiden University Institute for History will be appointing a PhD candidate within the NWO-funded VICI project Scholarly Vices: A Longue Durée History, supervised by Professor Herman Paul (https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/staffmembers/herman-paul).

Although “Baconianism” was initially synonymous with inductive methods of a kind regarded as constitutive of British empiricism, Bacon’s idola mentis – idols of the tribe, cave, marketplace, and theater – began to attract major attention only when inductivism lost its epistemic authority under the influence of, mainly, Hume and Stuart Mill. They were picked up by a broad range of 19th- and early 20th-century thinkers, including Alexander Herzen, Thomas Huxley, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim, John Dewey, and Max Scheler. Why did these mostly anti-positivist critics hark back to Bacon’s idols, despite “Baconianism” increasingly being associated with epistemic naivety? From where did they derive this commonplace and why was it attractive to them? Drawing on a broad array of mostly digitized sources, this sub-project examines modern retrievals of Bacon’s idols, thereby testing Justus von Liebig’s intriguing observation, back in 1863, that Bacon’s name lived on mainly in mottos or stereotypical phrases. More importantly, it examines the rhetorical purposes served by these phrases. To what extent did the classic status of Bacon’s idola add rhetorical power to epistemological criticism of “flawed,” “biased,” or “impure” scholarship?

Key responsibilities

  • Conducting research on “Idols of the Mind: Modern Variations on a Baconian Theme, 1800-2000” (see project description below);
  • Writing an English-language PhD thesis within four years;
  • Writing two (single- or co-authored) articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals;
  • Presenting draft articles or thesis chapters at conferences or workshops;
  • Co-organizing one of the workshops envisioned within the project;
  • Contributing actively to the project as a whole (e.g., serving as a peer reviewer for other team members, contributing to the project website);
  • If possible: contributing to undergraduate teaching.


  • MA degree in History or a related field;
  • Fluency in English and good passive command of German and French;
  • Demonstrable interest in the history of the humanities and/or the history of science (familiarity with late 19th-century philosophy is an advantage);
  • Experience in working with 18th- or 19th-century source material;
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of the team;
  • Ability to work in an international and highly competitive environment.

Conditions of employment

We offer a full-time position for initially one year. After a positive evaluation of the progress of the thesis, personal capabilities and compatibility the appointment will be extended by a further three years. Salary range from € 2,325.- to € 2,972.- gross per month (pay scale P, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3%), training and career development and sabbatical leave. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.  Additional budget allows for research visits abroad and attendance of international conferences. More at http://www.workingat.leiden.edu/.


Universiteit Leiden

Leiden is a typical university city, hosting the oldest university in the Netherlands (1575). The University permeates the local surroundings; University premises are scattered throughout the city, and the students who live and study in Leiden give the city its relaxed yet vibrant atmosphere.

Leiden University is one of Europe’s foremost research universities. This prominent position gives our graduates a leading edge in applying for academic posts and for functions outside academia. More at https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/working-at.



Faculty of Humanities

The Faculty of Humanities is rich in expertise in fields such as philosophy, religious studies, history, art history, literature, linguistics, international studies and area studies, covering nearly every region of the world. With its staff of 930, the faculty provides 27 masters and 25 bachelors programmes for over 6,000 students based at locations in Leiden’s historic city centre and in modern buildings in The Hague.  For more information:  www.hum.leidenuniv.nl.

The overall project, Scholarly Vices: A Longue Durée History, revolves around a simple question: Why do scholars still evaluate each other’s work in terms that are often centuries old? Although modern science differs considerably from early modern learning, 17th-century terms like “dogmatism,” “prejudice,” and “speculation” are still being used, even if their meanings have changed over time. The project tries to explain the persistence of this cultural repertoire by zooming in on (1) interaction between idioms (cultural repertoires) available to scholars at certain points in time, (2) mechanisms that help transmit repertoires across time and place, and (3) rhetorical purposes for which repertoires can be used.

Drawing on a wide array of 18th, 19th, and 20th-century sources from across the academic spectrum, the project tests three hypotheses: (1) early modern language of vice persisted in productive interaction with modern notions of “bias,” “subjectivity,” and “conflicts of interest”; (2) commonplaces, anecdotes, and stereotypes (“dark Middle Ages”) were major mechanisms of transmission; and (3) language of vice was attractive, not despite, but because of its time-honored origins.

By doing so, the project hopes to enrich our understanding of continuity and discontinuity between early modern learning and modern science. It hopes to build bridges between fields (in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences) that are too often studied in isolation from each other. Finally, in the realm of knowledge utilization, it wants to encourage scholars to reflect on contemporary scholarly virtues and vices.


Additional information


Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.


A more extensive project description is available upon request from Professor Herman Paul, e-mail h.j.paul@hum.leidenuniv.nl.


Apply here.

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