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

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Subject, Persona, Office: Methodological and Historiographical Issues
 
A Symposium held at the Monash Centre, Prato, Italy
 
16-17 May 2008
 
Organised by Ian Hunter, Conal Condren and Stephen Gaukroger
Funded by the Australian Research Council and the Centre for the History of European Discourses, University of Queensland
 
This was the third in a series of discussions focused on the persona of the philosopher. Papers from the first two symposia have now been published — Condren, Gaukroger and Hunter (eds), The Philosopher in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge 2006) — or are forthcoming (as a special issue of the Intellectual History Review, 2008). This final symposium discussed the methodological and historiographical implications of the concepts of intellectual persona and office for work in the field of intellectual history.
 
The symposium was conducted in English.
 
CHED is planning to publish the papers as the special issue of a journal.
 

Thematic Outline of the Conference
 
The role of concepts of intellectual persona and office in the field of intellectual history remains unfocused and uncertain for many practitioners. This is no doubt because their use in this field is somewhat novel and underdeveloped, with a significant degree of obscurity surrounding their current significance and future potential. The symposium represented an attempt to clarify this obscurity.
 
Recent work on intellectual persona and office — focused on such figures as the philosopher and theologian, the natural philosopher and jurist — may be regarded as opening up lines of inquiry not accessible via the philosophical conception of the subject. The philosophically conceived subject is understood as the locus of principles of cognition and morality given in consciousness and conscience and open to reflexive inspection. This conception has been subject to well-known post-Kantian complexifications; for example, via Hegelian philosophical history that makes reflexivity contingent on the historical clarification of material determinations; or via structuralist and post-structuralist doctrines according to which the principles of cognition and morality lie not in the subject as such but in language, social practices, disciplinary paradigms, and similar ‘historical a prioris’. Nonetheless, the agencies posited in these accounts — discourse, society, paradigms, knowledge institutions — tend to remain framed by the figure of the philosophical subject, at least to the degree that they trace cognition and morality to unifying quasi-transcendental determinants of knowledge and judgement.
 
The twinned concepts of intellectual persona and office differ from the array of subject-based approaches to intellectual history in two main ways. Firstly, the concept of intellectual persona frames knowledge in terms of the manner in which particular cognitive arrays — arts of reasoning, textual and mnemotechnical instruments, ‘spiritual exercises’, formalised methods and experimental apparatus — are tied to the formation of a particular kind of institutional persona (the Cartesian sceptic, the Baconian natural philosopher, the Hobbesian ‘civil scientist’, the Kantian critical philosopher, the Thomasian public-law jurist, etc). Second, the concept of office frames normative judgment in terms of bundles of duties and rights attached to an array of institutionally maintained roles and the ethical personae required to occupy them (husband and wife, citizen and magistrate, congregant and priest). Taken together, persona and office thus offer ways of approaching specific domains of intellectual history — history of political thought, of epistemology and metaphysics, of various experimental sciences — via investigations of the contexts responsible for the formation of particular kinds of intellectual persona and office. The distinctive feature of such investigations is that such contexts were approached with a view to uncovering their historical organisation, rather than treating them as necessary structures (transcendentally) deduced from given forms of knowledge or judgment.
 
If this is a broad pointer to the difference in approach associated with the concepts of intellectual persona and office, there are nonetheless important obscurities and difficulties attaching to these concepts at this stage of their development.
 
First, what is the relation between the cultivation of particular intellectual personae and the acquisition of a specific kinds of knowledge? Is this relation one or many? Are some objects of knowledge (eg. Platonic forms, Aristotelian substances, Llull’s divine concepts) internal to the practice of self cultivation? Are some objects (air-pressure) external? Or is this distinction between internal and external itself a product/instrument of historical transformations in the field of knowledge and truth?
 
Second, in what ways and to what degree does the approach via persona and office differ from existing historical and sociological approaches? for example, Biaggioli’s attachment of Galilean astronomy to the persona of the courtier; or approaches to early modern stability of judgment in terms of the persona of the gentleman. Do the concepts of persona and office permit a less reductionist approach? If so, how? Does the attention to ‘rhetorical’ arts of thinking and calculation play a key role in this regard?
 
Third, what kinds of historiographic or genre relations exist between the philosophical persona and the biographical persona? Does the philosophical persona have a ‘life’ in the same sense (in the same genre) as the biographical persona?
 
Fourth, what difference does it make if the object of knowledge (available to a certain persona) appears in a field that is radically and permanently unstable owing to political and religious contestation? Consider in this regard sovereignty as an object of knowledge for natural jurists in contrast with the refractive index of light as an object for optical scientists. Does the comparative stability and ‘externality’ of the latter kind of object mean that the sciences are subject to a different kind of history and historiography to that associated with political thought?
 
Fifth, is there a sharp distinction (as proposed by Hadot and Foucault) between ‘spiritual exercises’ (the modes of self-transformation required to become a subject of truth) and ‘philosophy’ (investigation of the subject’s access to truth)? Or is this a distinction that only pertains within restricted historical-intellectual domains? (Ie., not a watershed between ancient and modern philosophy, but a distinction made to serve particular philosophical and historiographic purposes).
 
Sixth, what kinds of relation have been proposed for the concepts of persona and office? Does persona refer to the kind of ‘self’ that must be cultivated in order to occupy a particular office? (Cf., the training of princes via conduct manuals etc. in early modern Europe). Or does office refer to duties and entitlements that inform the institutional delineation of a particular intellectual persona? (Cf., the duties and liberties of various kinds of teacher and student corps, collegiate groups, etc.).
 
Ian Hunter, Conal Condren, Stephen Gaukroger

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