dr. J. (Jaap) Maat

  • Faculty of Humanities
    Logic and Language
  • Visiting address
    Oude Turfmarkt 141  Room number: S 04
  • Postal address:
    Oude Turfmarkt  141
    1012 GC  Amsterdam
  • J.Maat@uva.nl
    T: 0205254536
    T: 0205254541

See the 'research' tab; there is also some information on my home page.



History of the Humanities

In October 2008, Rens Bod, Thijs Weststeijn and I (at Rens's initiative) organized the conference 'The Making of the Humanities'.  A volume of papers presented there has been published by AUP in 2010.

The second conference in this series was held in October, 2010. A volume of papers appeared in 2012.

The third conference took place in Rome, in November 2012. A volume of papers appeared in 2014.

The fourth conference, also in Rome, was an even greater success than the previous ones. No volume of papers appeared. Instead, a new journal was founded: History of Humanities.

The fifth conference will be held at Johns Hopkins (Baltimore), 5-7 October, 2016.

History of Logic

The Logic of John Wallis (1616-1703)
I participate in the Wallis Project (Oxford), working on an edition of the Treatise of Logick (1685).

We are also preparing an edited volume containing commissioned papers on various aspects of Wallis's logic, and on logic asa discipline in the seventeenth century. On April 23-24, 2009 a symposium devoted to the subject took place.

Medieval Obligation Games
In the academic year 2006-2007 I joined a Latin reading group initiated by Sara Uckelman at ILLC. We read and translated a 13th-century tract on 'obligationes'. A joint paper on this tract has been presented at the GPMR-LS1 workshop in Bonn, June 2007. A written version has been accepted for publication in the proceedings volume.
In the summer of 2008, we supervised a group of AI students who produced an interactive website, allowing visitors to play an obligation game against the computer.

Artificial Languages

We (David Cram and I) are putting together an anthology of texts dealingwith artificial languages in a broad sense. It includes proposals for new writing systems, schemes for universal languages, languages invented in fiction, logical languages, programming languages and many other types of artificial languages. We include texts that are individually fascinating and collectively illuminating of the wide range of existing and possible artificial languages.

Leibniz'srational grammar

G.W. Leibniz (1646-1716) is well-known as a mathematician and as a philosopher. He also famously envisaged the construction of what he often called a 'philosophical language' (and sometimes a 'characteristica universalis') - a miraculous tool not only for communication but also for thinking, enabling its users to find new insights and even to put an end to disputes.

One part of this grand project was the elaboration of 'rational grammar', which was to describe the basic patterns underlying all languages, and therewith the structure of human knowledge and thought. Carrying out this project, Leibniz undertook a painstaking analysis of the grammar and idioms of various languages, focusing however on Latin.

Although this type of analysis was a central element of Leibniz's linguistic work, it has not yet been subjected to thorough study. This is primarily due to the fact that, until recently, only a small selection of the relevant texts had been published. Fortunately, in the last decades a series of texts has become available in complete form for the first time, although a number of important texts are still accessible in manuscript form only.

I am currently writing a book which describes Leibniz's rational grammar project, and interprets it in the light of its intellectual background. Furthermore, the book containsannotated English translations of a number of key texts (which Leibniz wrote in Latin), so as to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Humanities and Sciences

L'absurde et déplorable scission des "lettres" et des "sciences" ne compromet pas seulement l'avenir de la philosophie; elle fausse son histoire et rend son passé inintelligible, en l'isolant des spéculations scientifiques où elle a toujours pris racine.

- Louis Couturat, La Logique de Leibniz, 1901.


People who use their erudition to write for a learned minority ... don't seem to me favored by fortune but rather to be pitied for their continuous self-torture. They add, change, remove, lay aside, take up, rephrase, show to their friends, keep for nine years and are never satisfied. And their futile reward, a word of praise from a handful of people, they win at such a cost-so many late nights, such loss of sleep, sweetest of all things, and so much sweat and anguish ... their health deteriorates, their looks are destroyed, they suffer partial or total blindness, poverty, ill-will, denial of pleasure, premature old age and early death.
-Desiderius Erasmus, Praise of Folly, ch. 50 (1509).

Valorisation (that is, 'outreach' or 'impact')

It may be unpopular and out-of-date to say -- but I do not think that a scientific result which gives a better understanding of the world and makes it more harmonious in our eyes should be held in lower esteem than, say, an invention which reduces the cost of paving roads, or improves household plumbing.
-Alfred Tarski, The Semantic Conception of Truth, 1944


You can hardly admire an author and at the same time go beyond him. It is like water; it ascends no higher than its starting point.
-Francis Bacon, preface to 'The Great Renewal' (1620)

The Importance of the Humanities

I was invited to give a talk of 5 - 7 minutes to a rather large group of students commencing their studies in one of the programmes offered by the Faculty of Humanities on 26 August, 2015.

This is more or less what I said:

You are all new master's students and exchange students at the Faculty of Humanities. The theme for today is 'the importance of the humanities'. You are all enrolled in a specific subject which is supposed to belong to that very broad range of disciplines known as the humanities, so it is obvious that the humanities are somehow important for you. And we're teachers, we are devoted to at least one of those subjects, so the humanities are obviously important to us too. So if I want to do more than state the obvious, and if I believe, which I do, that THE HUMANITIES ARE IMPORTANT, not just to those who happen to love them, but important - period, then I am not done yet.


I'll first ask a question which sounds very much like a typical philosophical question: do the humanities actually exist? A silly question, because there is no doubt that they do. History, linguistics, art history, musicology, media studies, modern languages, ancient languages and so forth, even philosophy - they all exist. But still, I'll argue that the answer is NO. Let me explain: what I mean by the question is: do the humanities exist in the sense that they form a coherent whole, do they belong together not just because the university administration thinks it is convenient to put all these fields together in a single faculty, but because there is something inherent, either in the objects they study, or in the method in which they study their objects, which separates them off from other fields? Your fellow students who have enrolled in other subjects: physics, medicine, biology anthropology, business studies are not in this room, they are elsewhere at the AMC or the Science Park or the Roeterseiland. Is this because there is something intrinsically different in what they do from what you and your fellow students are doing? I say NO. You are a student in German literature, or medieval history, and you are in the same room now with students in philosophy, and media studies and art history. Is there something essential that you share with these other students that you do not share with those at Science Park? I say NO.


I'll tell you why. It is because all those subjects now known as the humanities are, and have always been, closely connected with other fields of investigation. Boundaries between subjects may be drawn in many ways, and they are to a large extent arbitrary. What we know, and what we are curious about, is intertwined with things we believe and take for granted, and all that is constantly in flux. I'll illustrate this with an example.


Some years ago, I became interested, by sheer coincidence, in the history of the education of deaf people, more in particular, in how deaf people were taught how to speak in the seventeenth century. In studying this subject, I was studying the history of linguistics, wasn't I, perhaps a special branch, the history of language teaching, more or less a typical humanities subject. But was I? In order to understand what happened and why it happened in that particular way I had to take a number of other fields into account as well. For example, theology played its part. It is written in the Holy Bible that "faith comes by hearing" - did not this mean that those who lacked hearing, necessarily could have no faith? Philosophy was important too, as always. Some philosophers maintained that the cognitive capacities of a person who lacked speech had to be very poor and just like those of animals, while others pointed out that since the deaf had a rational soul, they spontaneously invented a language of their own. There were important legal aspects: the deaf could not act in legal matters, such as owning and selling land and making a will, if they could not prove that they understood language. And there was the medical side of course: what were the causes of deafness? Could it be cured? Was muteness always an effect of deafness or did it have independent causes? When people came to the conclusion that it was in fact possible to teach speech to the deaf, they made careful study of the production of speech sounds, which involved anatomical knowledge. One of the early writers on phonetics called his treatise on the subject 'a physico-grammatical' treatise: it combined grammar and anatomy.


I can assure you that this is a fascinating story, which I don't have the time to tell, but the important point in this context is that I could tell the very same story elsewhere in the university, as part of the history of the subjects that are taught there: the history of law, the history of medicine, the history of the social position of the disabled, and in our own good old faculty of humanities of course, to linguists, philosophers and even some residual theologians.


Don't let anybody ever tell you that what you are doing as a student in the humanities faculty is less important than what other students do. We do science, we are scholars because we are interested and curious to know about everything that surrounds us. Ultimately, all that knowledge hangs together.


If knowledge is important, then the humanities are important.



  • Maat, J. (in preparation). Defending Aristotle: singular propositions are really universal, and hypothetical syllogisms are really categorical. In Logic in the Seventeenth Century: John Wallis's Contribution. Leiden: Brill.
  • Maat, J. (in press). Leibniz. In The History of Philosophical and Formal Logic. Bloomsbury.
  • Maat, J. (in preparation). Two treatises on logic. Text and translation. In Logic in the Seventeenth Century: John Wallis's Contribution. Leiden: Brill.
  • Maat, J., & Cram, D. (in preparation). Introduction: John Wallis as a Logician. In Logic in the Seventeenth Century: John Wallis's Contribution. Leiden: Brill.
  • Maat, J., & Cram, D. F. (in press). Universal Language Schemes. In L. R. Waugh, & J. E. Joseph (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Cram, D. F., & Maat, J. (in press). John Wallis. Teaching Language to a Boy Born Deaf: The Popham Notebook and Associated Texts. Edited and introduced by David Cram and Jaap Maat. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • Bod, R., Kursell, J., Maat, J., & Weststeijn, T. (2016). A New Field: History of Humanities. History of Humanities, 1(1), 1-8. DOI: 10.1086/685056  [details] 
  • Bod, R., Kursell, J., Maat, J., & Weststeijn, T. (2016). Going Global. History of Humanities, 1(2), 211-212. DOI: 10.1086/687970  [details] 
  • Maat, J. (2016). Linguistic Justice requires an Artificial Language: a Comment on Van Parijs. Acta Universitatis Sapientiae. European and Regional Studies, 9, 77-81. DOI: 10.1515/auseur-2016-0011 


  • Bod, R., Maat, J., & Weststeijn, T. (2014). Introduction: The making of the modern humanities. In R. Bod, J. Maat, & T. Weststeijn (Eds.), The making of the humanities. - Vol. 3: The modern humanities (pp. 13-24). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. [details] 
  • Maat, J. (2014). Natural languages and artificial language: Leibniz's rational grammar as the link between the two. Studia Leibnitiana, Supplement(38), 43-54.
  • Uckelman, S. L., Maat, J., & Rybalko, K. (in press). The Art of Doubting in Obligationes Parisienses. In Modern views of medieval logic. Leuven: Peeters.


  • Maat, J. (2013). General or Universal Grammar from Plato to Chomsky. In K. Allan (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics. (pp. 397-417). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • Maat, J. (2011). Language and Semiotics. In Desmond Clarke, & Catherine Wilson (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Early Modern Europe. (pp. 272-294). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • Maat, J. (2010). The artes sermocinales in times of adversity: how grammar, logic and rhetoric survived the seventeenth century. In R. Bod, J. Maat, & T. Weststeijn (Eds.), The making of the humanities. - Vol. 1: Early Modern Europe. (pp. 283-295). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.


  • Maat, J. (2009). Dalgarno and Leibniz on the particles. Language & History, 52(2), 160-170. DOI: 10.1179/175975309X452049  [details] 
  • Maat, J. (2009). Grice, Herbert Paul. In H. Stammerjohann (Ed.), Lexicon grammaticorum: a bio-bibliographical companion to the history of linguistics: Second edition (pp. 572-575). Berlin: De Gruyter. DOI: 10.1515/9783484971127.502  [details] 


  • Maat, J. (2006). Habermas, Jurgen (b. 1929). In Keith Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd. ed., Vol. 5. (pp. 189-190). Oxford: Elsevier. [details] 
  • Maat, J. (2006). Hintikka, Jaakko (b. 1929). In Keith Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd, ed, Vol 5. (pp. 312-313). Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Maat, J. (2006). The Status of Logic in the Seventeenth Century. In B. Löwe, V. Peckhaus, & T. Räsch (Eds.), The History of the Concept of the Formal Sciences, Papers of the conference "Foundations of the Formal Sciences IV" held in Bonn, February 14th to 17th, 2003. (pp. 157-168). London: College Publications.


  • Maat, J. (2005). Dummett, Michael Anthony Eardley (b. 1925). In Keith Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed., Vol. 4. (pp. 12). Oxford: Elsevier. [details] 
  • Maat, J. (2005). Geach, Peter Thomas (b.1916). In Keith Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd. ed., Vol. 4. (pp. 729). Oxford: Elsevier. [details] 
  • Cram, D. F., & Maat, J. (2005). Universal Language Schemes in the 17th Century. In Keith Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed., Vol. 13. (pp. 259-264). Oxford: Elsevier. [details] 


  • Maat, J. (2004). Philosophical Languages in the Seventeenth Century: Dalgarno, Wilkins, Leibniz. (The New Synthese Historical Library; No. Vol. 54). Dordrecht: Kluwer. [details] 
  • Maat, J. (2004). Leibniz's texts on rational grammar. In G. Hassler, & G. Volkmann (Eds.), History of Linguistics in Texts and Concepts, Vol. II. (pp. 517-526). Münster: Nodus. [details] 


  • Cram, D. F., & Maat, J. (2002). The search for the perfect language: Lingua adamica in the context of seventeenth-century universal language schemes. In K. Dupont, N. Dupré, R. Gennaro, S. Vanvolsem, F. Musarra, & B. van den Bossche (Eds.), Eco in Fabula: Umberto Eco in the Humanities. (pp. 137-148). Leuven/Florence: Leuven University Press/Franco Cesati Editore. [details] 


  • Cram, D. F., & Maat, J. (2001). George Dalgarno on Universal Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [details] 


  • Maat, J., & Cram, D. F. (2000). Universal Language Schemes in the Seventeenth Century. In S. Auroux, K. Koerner, H-J. Niederehe, & K. Versteegh (Eds.), History of the Language Sciences: An International Handbook on the Evolution of the Study of Language from the Beginnings to the Present. (pp. 1030-1043). Berlin-New York: De Gruyter. [details] 


  • Maat, J. (1999). A wonderful piece of literature containing large amounts of palpable nonsense. Semiotica, 126(1/4), 121-142. [details] 
  • Maat, J. (1999). Leibniz on rational grammar. In Studies in the History of the Langauge Sciences volume 95: History of Linguistics 1996. (pp. 113-122). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. [details] 


  • Maat, J., & Cram, D. F. (1998). Dalgarno in Paris. Histoire, Epistemologie. Langage, 20(2), 167-179. [details] 


  • Cram, D. F., & Maat, J. (1996). Comenius, Dalgarno and the English Translations of the Janua Linguarum. Studia comeniana et historica, 26(55-56), 148-160.


  • Maat, J. (1995). Leibniz on Wilkins and Dalgarno. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft, 5, 169-183.
  • Maat, J. (1995). The Logic of Dalgarno’s Ars Signorum (1661). In K. R. Jankowsky (Ed.), History of Linguistics 1993. (pp. 157-166). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins..


  • Maat, J. (Author). (2013). Teaching language to a boy born deaf in the seventeenth century: the Holder-Wallis debate.
  • Maat, J. (2013). Semantical Investigations. In M. D. Aloni, M. Franke, & F. Roelofsen (Eds.), The dynamic, inquisitive, and visionary life of ϕ, ?ϕ, and ◊ϕ -- A festschrift for Jeroen Groenendijk, Martin Stokhof, and Frank Veltman.. (pp. 164-166)


  • Cornelisse, I. (Author), Maat, J. (Author), Mast, P. (Author), Smid, R. (Author), Smits, D. (Author), & Uckelman, S. L. (Author). (2008). Interactive website for medieval obligationes games.


  • Maat, J. (2006). Habermas, Jurgen (b. 1929). In K. Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd. ed.. (pp. 189-190). Oxford: Elsevier.


  • Cram, D. F. (Author), & Maat, J. (Author). (2005). Tulip; The Universal Language Internet Portal.


  • Maat, J. (2001). Drijfzand of rotsbodem: logische vorm in leibniz' rationele grammatica. Meesterwerk. Berichten van het Peeter Heynsgenootschap, 22, 5-12. [details] 


  • Maat, J. (2014). Toon van Hal, Moedertalen en Taalmoeders [Bespreking van: T van Hal (2010) Moedertalen en taalmoeders. Het vroegmoderne taalvergelijkende onderzoek in de Lage Landen.]. Studium, 7(1), 51-53.


  • Maat, J. (2008). [Review of: M.A. Finocchiaro (2005) Arguments about arguments: systematic, critical, and historical essays in logical theory]. History and Philosophy of Logic, 29(4), 385-387. DOI: 10.1080/01445340701228828  [details] 


  • Maat, J. (2007). [Review of: P. Beeley, C.J. Scriba (2005) The correspondence of John Wallis. - Vol. 2 (1660-September 1668)]. Historia Mathematica, 34(1), 108-111. DOI: 10.1016/j.hm.2005.11.001  [details] 


  • Maat, J. (1997). Im Spiegel des Verstandes, Studien zu Leibniz [Review of: Klaus K. Dutz, Stefano Gensini (1996) Im Spiegel des Verstandes, Studien zu Leibniz]. Bulletin - the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas, 29, 31-35.

Book editor

  • Maat, J., & Cram, D. (in preparation). Logic in the Seventeenth Century: John Wallis's Contribution. Leiden: Brill.
  • Bod, R., Maat, J., & Weststeijn, T. (2014). The making of the humanities. - Vol. 3: The modern humanities. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Bod, R., Maat, J., & Weststeijn, T. (2012). The making of the humanities. - Vol. 2: From early modern to modern disciplines. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Bod, R., Maat, J., & Weststeijn, T. (2010). The making of the humanities. - Vol. 1: Early Modern Europe. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. [details] 

Journal editor

  • Maat, Jaap (editor in chief) (2016-): History of Humanities (Journal).
  • Bod, L.W.M. (editor), Kursell, Julia (editor), Maat, J. (editor) & Weststeijn, M.A. (editor) (2016-): History of Humanities (Journal).

Talk / presentation

  • Maat, Jaap (speaker) (5-10-2016): The History of a Field as Part of the Field, International Conference The Making of the Humanities, United States.
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