Category Archives: Historical episodes

3QD: Our very own annus mirabilis

This isn’t the first time universities have shut down from fear of pestilence. In 1665, “it pleased the Almighty God in his just severity to visit this towne of Cambridge with the plague of pestilence”, and Cambridge University was closed. … Continue reading

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The impact of Boris Hessen

Reading: Gerardo Ienna and Giulia Rispoli, “Boris Hessen at the Crossroads of Science and Ideology from International Circulation to the Soviet Context”, Society and Politics, 2019, 13:37-63. [These are just some preliminary notes on a very complex story I am … Continue reading

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Hobbes and coins

Thomas Hobbes saw humans as purely mechanical devices. External objects press against us in one way or another, setting off a chain reaction of interior pulleys, wheels, and ratchets that engage one another and result in some version of “Cuckoo!” … Continue reading

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What we know when we know particulars

Some reflections on the early sections of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: If we try to think about what is most obvious in our experience, and what the most basic elements of knowledge are, we turn to sense perception. For it … Continue reading

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On the Other Delphic Maxims

Now up at Aeon. The conclusion: The fact that the great majority of maxims on the list can still serve us today is itself worth further reflection. There is no denying that our lives have changed a lot in the … Continue reading

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Say, whatever happened to Casearius?

Readers of Spinoza’s letters will recall the name “Casearius”. Johannes Casearius lived in the same house in Rijnsburg as Spinoza, and Spinoza taught him Cartesian philosophy, an effort which led in part to Spinoza’s book, The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy. … Continue reading

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A New Liberal Arts

The traditional liberal arts (logic, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) arose for two reasons: to preserve knowledge and to render young men fit for positions of influence. Knowledge had pretty much been wiped out in western Europe with … Continue reading

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Artefactual language as the enabler of Spirit

Cultural information rains down on the landscape of our genetically endowed mental capacities, mouldering the paths along which future information must travel, eroding and shaping the patterns of our thoughts and reactions (Distin 2011, 177-8) Chasing down some of Sloterdijk’s … Continue reading

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Enlightenment now

(Reading Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now) I am totally down with this book. Its main thesis is that the core values of the Enlightenment – Reason, Science, and Humanism – have resulted in human life being better in every measurable way. … Continue reading

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Philosophy as an art of concepts

Around the beginning of the 20th century, the intellectual landscape changed radically and forever. The old view, let’s say, presumed the intelligibility of a God’s eye perspective: a vision of Things as They Are, or Things as They Really Are … Continue reading

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Work in progress

I’m slowly working on a book that tries to integrate what I’m learning about history with what I know (or think I know!) about early modern philosophy, and thought I’d post an excerpt that covers, in a general way, putting … Continue reading

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Philosophy as enchantment?

[What follows is a version of an address recently given at the Mountain-Plains Philosophy Conference, where a good time was had by all.] In a lecture at the University of Munich in 1919 – the year before he died – … Continue reading

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Philosophy and its history

Philosophy and its History: aims and methods in the study of early modern philosophy, edited by Mogens Laerke, Justin E. H. Smith, and Eric Schliesser (Oxford UP, 2013). For the longest time, philosophers were interested in their own history only … Continue reading

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Truth: an initial stab at the thing

On campus we are having a series of discussions under the title of “facticity.” No, it’s not a headlong plunge into German idealism and the impossible task of capturing the brute “thatness” of what experience coughs up. Instead, it is … Continue reading

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Putting history into history of philosophy

If we wish, however, to arrive at an interpretation of a text, an understanding of why its contents are as they are and not otherwise, we are still left with the further task of recovering what the author may have … Continue reading

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