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 “active sensitiveness” like that which is possessed animals and people.
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 mathematical-mechanical lines, can be attained only by relating knowledge to language, as was attempted by Hamann during Kant’s lifetime.”
In this paper I will look at Benjamin’s reading of Johann Georg Hamann, and how Hamannian themes shaped the development of Benjamin’s philosophy – in particular the turn away from philosophical reason (“the unnatural use of abstractions”) and towards a richer understanding of language and experience.
I will argue that Hamann’s account of the relationship between language and experience (including his reflections on what language is and where it comes from, and his broadening of the concept of experience from one predominantly focused on evidence to one that accommodates religious and aesthetic feelings) anticipates many themes in Benjamin’s philosophy – and that his style and writing strategy may also have exercised an influence over the latter.
Finally I shall close with a philosophical examination of their proposed re-evaluation of the concept of experience, and how this might contribute to contemporary philosophical debate.
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 likely that these discussions were among the most rewarding in the whole history of philosophy.
Nicholas Jolley, Leibniz (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 18.
I just published a short piece on the Guardian Datablog about a big release of open data from Europeana, Europe’s digital library, which was announced earlier this morning.
The PHILOS-L mailing list is one of the largest English language email lists for philosophy in Europe. The list was founded in 1989 by Professor Stephen Clark and is hosted at the University of Liverpool. It includes details of jobs, conferences, talks, calls for papers, and new publications in philosophy.
In case you’d prefer to follow the list outside the bustle of your inbox (e.g. using an app on your phone or tablet) I’ve just generated an RSS feed for the list, as well as associated Twitter and Facebook accounts.
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 Marie Anderson, who organised the conference and also translated Hegel’s essay on Hamann.
I’ve uploaded a post-print version of the chapter to the institutional repository of Royal Holloway, University of London. You can download a PDF copy here. It is listed on PhilPapers here.
The following is a short piece written for the Guardian Datablog about what the European Commission’s recent announcement on access to scientific data could mean for science and for public engagement with science.
The following is a short piece on “The Future of Memory” written for The Junket, an online literary quarterly edited by actor and Man Booker Prize judge Dan Stevens.
In his À la recherche du temps perdu Marcel Proust writes of memories unfurling and unfolding like Japanese paper flowers suspended in water – from small seedlike bundles into fragile and exquisite miniature villages. Try as he might to control and artificially instigate the flow of reverie and trance into which he is so often plunged – whether from the confines of his cork-lined room or while he retraces his steps in the twilight hours – he finds that he must wait for the past to descend upon him.
Perhaps the most famous episode in the book is his encounter with a small cake, a madeleine, which brings back a world about which he had largely forgotten. For the great master of remembrance, the world is pregnant with such sensory triggers – madeleines – keys to unlocking forgotten doors which lead to vast networks of significance, cascading layers and delicate schematics of voice, tone, shade and place, that we had forgotten were contained within us, and which we may feel are in danger of dissolving into dust at a touch.
O’Reilly Media just published an interview with me about the Data Journalism Handbook and the future of data journalism. Here it is.
I just published a piece on the Guardian Datablog about ‘what data can and cannot do’, arguing that data journalists and civic data hackers should strive to cut back on data-driven hype and to cultivate a more critical literacy towards their subject matter. Here’s an excerpt.