Category Archives: intellectualhistory

Goethe and Hegel discuss Hamann at a tea party

On October 18, 1827, Goethe gave a tea party in honor of the philosopher Hegel, who had come to Weimar to visit him. Although each of the men genuinely respected the achievements of the other, we know from a first-hand report of the discussion that the radical difference in their basic philosophical positions emerged in […]

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The Genius and the Soil: Open Access and the Politics of Information

The following article was originally published in the April-May 2013 edition of Red Pepper (Issue 189). Who can share what on the internet? There is an increasing awareness of debates around illegal sharing through high profile court cases and controversies in the news – through things like the Pirate Bay, Wikileaks, or the recent tragic […]

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The Hegemony of the Eye

Insofar as the most innovative instruments of the era – the telescope and the microscope – extended the range and acuity of one sense in particular, scientific experience tended to privilege the visual, with its capacity to produce knowledge at a distance, over the other senses. Even when Bacon castigated normal vision for staying on […]

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Diderot on Living Marble and Self-Replicating Harpsichords

Denis Diderot explains how he can make marble come to life ‘whenever he pleases’ in an imaginary dialogue between himself and his friend Jean le Rond d’Alembert, mathematician and co-editor of the Encyclopedia. In the following passage he has just informed d’Alembert, much to the latter’s astonishment, that he knows how to make marble have […]

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Hamann and Benjamin on the Concept of Experience

Next month I’ll be giving a paper at the upcoming The Philosophy of Walter Benjamin conference at Goldsmiths, University of London. Here’s the abstract: In his 1917 essay “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy”, Benjamin wrote: “The great transformation and correction which must be performed upon the concept of experience, oriented so one-sidedly along […]

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When Leibniz met Spinoza

In 1676 Leibniz found a pretext to visit Spinoza in The Hague, having learned that Spinoza was at work on a philosophical treatise of great importance. Spinoza showed Leibniz the manuscript of the Ethics, and the two men discussed philosophy together over several days. Although there is no written record of their conversation, it seems […]

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Hamann, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein on the Language of Philosophers

I’ve got a chapter on “Hamann, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein on the Language of Philosophers” in Hamann and the Tradition, which has just been published by Northwestern University Press. The book is based on a series of papers given at an international conference on Hamann in New York in March 2009. It is edited by Lisa […]

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The Intellectual History of Europe

In the introduction to their 1984 volume on Philosophy in History, Richard Rorty, J.B. Schneewind and Quentin Skinner describe their vision of a comprehensive (and incidentally impossible) “Intellectual History of Europe”: Imagine a thousand-volume work entitled The Intellectual History of Europe. Imagine also a great convocation of resurrected thinkers, at which every person mentioned in […]

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The Sea of Stories

Earlier this week the Guardian, Forbes and others covered the discovery of 500 fairy tales collected by 19th century folklorist Franz Xaver von Schönwerth. I sent a note about this to Professor Jack Zipes, who promptly replied urging caution about the discovery and pointing to many other (in his view more interesting) 19th century collections […]

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The contingent cathedral: notes on Lewis White Beck’s Early German Philosophy

Lewis White Beck‘s 1969 Early German Philosophy is a long, rich and rambling chronicle of philosophical thinkers and philosophical ideas originating from what we now call Germany, roughly from the birth of St. Ambrose in 340 to the death of Kant in 1804.

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