The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Thomas Ahnert

Philosophy and the Character of a Clergyman: “Orthodox” and “Moderates” in the Scottish Enlightenment

This paper examines a series of disputes between the so-called “orthodox”, or “Popular Party”, and the “Moderates” in the mid-eighteenth century Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which provide an interesting example of the articulation of philosophical personae. In part, these disagreements reflected opposing views on the administration of the Calvinist church, in particular the question of the appointment of ministers. Parallel to this institutional context, however, the controversies between the two groups also mirrored diverging views on the relationship of philosophy to theology: Moderates tended to be far more cautious than the orthodox about the ability of philosophical argument to provide any truths concerning religion. Moderates and orthodox also generally held different conceptions of the importance of philosophy for moral conduct: while the “orthodox” believed that virtue required above all the understanding to be persuaded by certain philosophical truths, the “Moderates” tended to emphasize the importance of the passions rather than the intellect as the source of moral action.

These differences were brought out particularly clearly by the disputes between orthodox and Moderates concerning the duties of a clergyman, following the performance in 1756 of the play Douglas by the young minister John Home. In a polemical piece, the Serious Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Stage (1757), the orthodox clergyman John Witherspoon argued that attending, let along writing, stage plays was incompatible with the persona – or “character” – of a Christian minister and his duties towards his congregation. The Moderate party enthusiastically supported Home. In this paper I will argue, that disagreements over the nature, status, and function of philosophy crucially informed the respective beliefs of orthodox and Moderates about the proper persona of a Presbyterian minister.

Conal Condren

Scriblerian Satire of the Philosophic Persona and the Lucianic Legacy of Thomas Hobbes

This paper places Scriblerian satire in a context of serio laudere philosophical critique, one that pays as much attention to philosophical persona as to doctrine. It shows the Scriberlians to have fought on a broad philosophical front, dealing with the disputes between ancients‚ and moderns‚ the virtuosi, medical practice, empiricism, deductive systematics, metaphysics, logic and Epicurian materialism, but always with an eye to the detection, or confection of philosophical absurdity. The specific satire of Lockeian theories of personal identity are placed in a broader context of concern than has been recognised. It is argued that Hobbes, the arch materialist of seventeenth-century England was a displaced victim of Scriblerian satire. Once he too is recognised as sharing in the same serio laudere tradition, however, it can be seen that their implicit understanding of the philosophical functions of the provocation of laughter is at one with what Hobbes made explicit.

Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen

Christian Thomasius and the Education of the Enlightenment Philosopher

At the turn of the 18th century, Christian Thomasius developed a new program for university education in philosophy. This program not only introduced students to the “art of reasoning,” but also taught them to distinguish and separate the multiple personae of an educated person. According to Thomasius, university professors and scholars had no monopoly on the persona of the philosopher. Any individual who reasoned independently and prudently was, in part, a philosopher. Simultaneously, the persona of the philosopher only represented one social function among other equally important functions, such as that of the citizen, the courtier or the theologian. Thomasius’ educational program, implemented at the University of Halle in the 1690s, introduced students to these distinctions not only through theoretical lectures but also through practical exercises.

Stephen Gaukroger

Enlightenment Sensibilism and its Implications for the Persona of the Philosopher in the Mid-Eighteenth Century: Some first thoughts

I deal with four issues in the paper:

• The shift from a Cartesian to a Lockean/sensibilist conception of our cognitive life, whereby cognitive and affective states are relatively integrated, and where innate ideas are rejected so that one’s cognitive and affective life are not in any way shaped by pre-given features of the mind.

• Shifts in the conception of the persona of the philosopher in the early-modern era: (1) contemplatve to active understanding of the world; (2) move from a clerical to a secular conception of the persona of the philosopher; (3) rejection of the idea that the philosopher is someone who defends a philosophical system. The importance of the rejection of systematic philosophy to the Enlightenment.

• The question of how one builds up a cognitive and affective life from a tabula rasa. Diderot and Condillac on the parallels between Cartesian ‘rationalists’ and those suffering from sensory deficiency.

• Given the constraints of (i) no innate ideas and (ii) no system-following, what does the formulation of a successful philosophy consist in? Hume: philosophical scepticism is indispensible as an aid to reflection on philosophical systems and reflection on commonplace beliefs and traditions. It leads us to abandon the former but can offer nothing in its own right and cannot lead us to abandon the latter, though it can cause us to modify our unreflective beliefs. This is what the philosophical life consists in for Hume. For Diderot and d’Alembert by contrast, our unreflective beliefs must be replaced, but we do not achieve this ab initio. Rather, the solution lies in an act of philosophical autonomy, whereby we freely decide which parts of philosophical systems to adopt, without regard for their systematic aspirations, and piece them together in a way that answers to our own philosophical concerns, thereby shaping an individual philosophy for ourselves.

Ian Hunter

The History of Philosophy and the Persona of the Philosopher

This paper discusses the impact of concept of the persona of the philosopher on recent debates in intellectual history. In particular, it focuses on the so-called impasse between historical contextualism and rational reconstruction, arguing that the presentation of this impasse is in fact a strategy for containing contextualism and recuperating the history of science for a neo-Kantian philosophical history. Not only does the persona concept allow us to avoid this impasse by historicising it, but it offers a means of integrating the history of philosophy and the history of science that respects their difference.

Sarah Hutton

On being a Philosophess – the Persona of the Woman Philosopher in Eighteenth-Century England

The question of the persona of the philosopher is central to the study and rehabilitation of female philosophers. It is particularly relevant to the philosophical women of the eighteenth century, for this was the period when, as never before, the extra-academic character of philosophy made possible the participation of non-professionals. Although one might expect the non-institutional character of eighteenth-century philosophy to have boosted women’s participation, the philosophical activity of women in this period remains marginal, and the number of self-declared female philosophers negligible. My paper will discuss some of the problems associated with identifying women as philosophers. After a brief discussion of the impact anachronistic models, I shall discuss some of the ways in which the persona of the female philosopher was determined by eighteenth-century cultural, political and social conditions. My discussion will be confined to England, with examples taken from across the century (e.g. Damaris Masham and Catharine Macaulay). The ‘philosophess’ to whom I shall give most attention to Mary Hays and Elizabeth Hamilton’s satirical Memoirs of Modern Philosophers.

Laurent Jaffro

The Shaftesburian Concept of Philosophical Education

Shaftesbury not only practised philosophical gymnastic as a means of preparing himself for publication, in his private Askêmata, he also theorised it in the essay Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author (1710). The aim of this paper is to set out his conception of philosophical askêsis. As is shown by his distinction between “economical self” and “natural self”, the cultivation of the right persona was at the core of Shaftesbury’s perfectionist conception of education. Drawing on a Stoic model of the relations between the private and the public, the third Earl tried to make ancient askêsis serve the building of a modern character. At the same time, he was aware that lapsing into mere mimicry would discredit his undertaking. So as to avoid the modern ridicule attached to an antique persona, he had to develop a subtle conception of the relationship between the commitment to the modern world and the ancient model of philosophical paideia. That conception of the persona of the philosopher was very different from the mainstream views about clandestinity and publicity that we find among British free thinkers, notably in Shaftesbury’s protégé, John Toland.

Martin Mulsow

The Libertine’s Two Bodies:  Moral Persona and Free-Thought from La Mothe Le Vayer to Lau

Ernst Kantorowicz’s famous The King’s Two Bodies reconstructed the complex juridical fiction of a “gemina persona”, a double person. This fiction, complemented by the Averroist distinction between theological and philosophical truths and another legal-theological fiction – that of “in puris naturalibus” -, seems to be at the bottom of some libertine ways of conceiving the individual’s role as a philosophical writer. François La Mothe Le Vayer (1588-1672) claimed in his Dialogues faits à l’imitation des anciens of 1640 that he wrote them “as ancient philosopher and pagan”, which means in the role of a subject using reason alone. Similar to La Mothe Le Vayer, the German free-thinker Theodor Ludwig Lau (1670-1740), emphasized the importance of not confusing the personae of the philosopher and the theologian. Lau uses Pufendorf’s distinction between different “personae morales” to explain his view: one human being can have different moral personae – he can be a philosopher in public (as an author) and a Christian in private. It is interesting here to see Lau take a middle road between Hobbes and Kant: for Hobbes, a person can believe whatever he or she wants as a private person, but the state will control what is ‘public’ church belief. For Kant, the public use of reason should always be free, while the ‘private use’ may be restricted by the state (‘private’ here in the sense of being a civil servant). Lau, however, claims both: to be privately (and freely) a Christian, and, at the same time, to have the right for a ‘public’ use of reason in publishing his ‘atheistic’ books. To understand his case, we need to consider some additional elements. Lau perceives his role as a ‘public’ writer not so much as conveying his own convictions, but as a way to display (as in a theater) possible rational arguments. He interprets Thomasian “eclecticism” in this way: the role of the eclectic philosopher is to offer opinions from different angles in order that his readers can chose on their own what is convincing for them and what is not.

Jeremy Schmidt

The Philosopher-priest: The Clerical Personae of Samuel Clarke and Joseph Butler

Early modern Anglican manuals on the art of preaching insisted on the importance of avoiding abstract reasoning in sermons and emphasised further the need for the minister to take up the role of Christ’s priesthood and divine authority in their preaching.  At the same time, Christianity was often understood as taking over in some way the role of the philosopher in teaching and inculcating virtue.  This understanding of the Christian ‘cure of souls’ built a tension into the persona of the clergyman, which late seventeenth-century Anglican moral theology and ‘orthodox’ moral philosophy attempted to maintain and resolve in various ways.  In the context of the freethinking attacks on the ethical teachings deriving from ‘priestcraft’, however, and the assertion of specifically Spinozist arguments about the sufficiency of reason in ethics, these resolutions failed to justify adequately the authority exercised by the priest in guiding parishioners to the good. The solution suggested by Samuel Clarke is that ethical norms did not need an external authority to make them into laws, and the priest’s role was not to impersonate such authority in guiding behaviour, but to cultivate reason, which was itself an adequate guide and motive. While this seemed to resolve the persona of priest into that of philosopher, Clarke both saw the need for the philosopher to have a social authority that in the ancient world he lacked, and he argued that the authorisation of philosophy was provided for in Christ’s revelation. Clarke’s understanding of the role of priest, while attacked as deistic by high-church Anglicans, can be seen to be at play in Joseph Butler’s famous Fifteen Sermons preached at Rolls Chapel (1726).

Dennis L. Sepper

Familiar and Unfamiliar Personae: Goethe’s Encounters with Philosophy

The notion of Goethe’s possible relationships to philosophers and philosophy is not a mere artifact of overeager scholarship. Besides being an avid reader of Kant in the early 1790s (well before the friendship with the Kantian Schiller began), in the mid- and late-1790s he had personal relationships with Fichte and Schelling, and with Hegel beginning in the first decade of the nineteenth century. As Privy Councilor of Saxony-Weimar he often took an interest in faculty recruitment at the University of Jena, and in fact he recommended and recruited young philosophers who had been influenced or inspired by Kant, in particular Fichte and Schelling.

Although there is a sense in which all of Goethe’s writing can be called Gelegenheitsdichtung, a poetry of occasions, his poems, dramas, and novels are rich in ideas (sufficiently so that Schelling and Hegel frequently invoked them as sources and occasions for their philosophizing), his belle-lettristic and art criticism reflect a carefully articulated aesthetic sensibility, and his scientific writings are undergirded by a well developed understanding of the limits of the human mind and the historical character of human and natural change. Considerations of this type led Hans-Georg Gadamer to argue that Goethe was one of the best and earliest critics of Idealism and a philosopher more in the spirit of the ancient pre-Platonic Greeks than of German idealism.

What kind of philosopher was Goethe, really? On the one hand, however appreciative he was of Kant’s first and third Critiques and however sympathetic to certain strains of Idealism, he retained throughout his life a prejudice against the totalizing ambitions of systems that he had acquired when he first encountered the thoroughgoing mechanisms and materialisms of radical enlightenment thinkers like d’Holbach. Nevertheless, his (metaphysical) confidence in nature as a self-sufficient, dynamic whole led him to think that, even if finite human understanding can never grasp the cosmos in its entirety, it can nevertheless retain a positive orientation toward the possibility of a completeness in principle that can be rendered only symbolically. He found support for this in Kant, particularly in the third Critique, and in this sense he is not (as Gadamer perhaps suggests) just a critic but also a philosophical innovator.

A corollary of this orientation and conception is of special relevance to the notion of ‘persona’. It was in his science of color and the historical researches he undertook in support of it that enabled him to see that there is an analogue of role-playing personae in cognitive pursuits, which he identified under the concept of Vorstellungsarten, ways of presenting or representing things. The paper explains how Goethe’s mature thought supports a theory of professionalized personae in cognitive activities and also represents an original attempt to address the Idealist hope of moving back behind the dichotomies of subject/object without becoming entangled in the paradoxes of knowing the absolute. It concludes with a brief reflection on the substantial accuracy of the portrait of philosophy (and of his own philosophical work) Goethe drew in the essay in which he described himself as lacking an organ for philosophy, “Einwirkung der neueren Philosophie.”

Catherine Wilson

The Philosopher as Social Critic in the Eighteenth Century

Ethics is the study of how to remodel oneself — and by implication other people — the better to fit the world as it is, whereas politics is the study of how to remodel the social world, the world of power relations, so as to better fit people as they are.  Historically, philosophers have considered themselves responsible for both tasks, explaining to people how to be virtuous and saved, but also describing well-ordered societies.  Improving and saving people is still a major preoccupation of 17th century philosophers.  The philosophes of the 18th century (Rousseau, Diderot, Helvetius) were, by contrast, more willing to take people more or less for granted, while adopting the stance of cultural critics.  What gives philosophers the confidence and the authority to do one or the other?  I’d like to discuss the relaxation of the philosopher’s ethical role, and the corresponding intensification of his or her political role as social critic in the 18th century.  Kant will appear briefly in his role of famous revanchiste.

John H. Zammito

Médecin-philosoph: Persona for Radical Enlightenment

In 1772 Ernst Platner published Anthropologie für Ärzte und Weltweise.  I want to consider how that combination of “physicians” and “philosophers” got into his title by recovering a peculiar mode of philosophical self-presentation that became crucial in Europe in the middle of the 18th century, the médecin-philosoph.  I will connect the idea with the “paradigm shift” to “vital materialism” in French life science around mid-century in the works of Buffon, Maupertuis, La Mettrie and Diderot, stressing how the last two figures, in particular, took up the stance of the médecin-philosoph.  I will then show how a parallel tradition took shape in Germany, culminating in Platner’s book.




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