In Praise of the European Spirit

Europe is going through one of the recurrent identity crises which have punctuated its long history. Some journalists and pundits contemptuously reject the very idea of a ‘European Civilisation’ and in a strange exercise of self-hatred, take full personal responsibility when the ghosts of slavery and colonisation are evoked. Yet, no other continent is prepared to face its worst demons and question its cultural and intellectual legacy in a period defined by confusion and uncertainty. This ability to question our ...

Hegel on Freedom

Hegel’s conception of freedom is central to his Introduction to the Philosophy of History and his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) in which it is described as one of its most immediately perceived properties. Yet, it is only through philosophy as speculative knowledge that freedom can fulfil itself. For Hegel, universal history is the slow progress of its understanding and advent through three stages: the earliest one is to be found in Antiquity and is epitomised by the autocratic power of ...

Is Philosophy under Siege?

Is Philosophy the main victim of the latest paradigm of our time, namely, the systematic undermining and denigration of the concept of truth, so central to any philosophical project? This widespread eroding of critical rational thinking is threatening the very nature of philosophy as well as its existing role in our liberal democracies. Philosophy seems to be under siege from many quarters, all eager to proclaim the demise of a so-called intellectual ‘élite', portrayed as the dangerous guardians of obsolete ...

My Top Philosophy Books of 2018

OK, I confess: my favourite philosophy book of 2018 was actually published in 2016 and it is American Philosophy: A Love Story, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In his remarkably riveting enquiry into the ‘zeitgeist’ of early twentieth-century American academe, John Kaag recreates the confident and life-affirming philosophy of William Ernest Hocking, a neglected thinker overshadowed by his mentor Josiah Royce and by William James whose Principles of Psychology prompted Hocking to study philosophy at Harvard. Kaag mixes erudition and ...

Isaiah Berlin and the Vexing Issue of Liberty

When Isaiah Berlin died in 1997, his conceptions of liberty and value pluralism were to be read within the dying tradition of totalitarian politics, as implemented by Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. For the Russian-born thinker whose family escaped to England in 1921, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx were directly responsible for a warped interpretation of freedom enabling the state to force its citizens to conform to its own needs and ethereal collective aspirations.  His answer was a more realistic solution that ...

Mary Midgley: A Combative Philosopher

Mary Midgley, who died on the 10th October 2018, at the age of 99, belonged with Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot to a formidable quartet of gifted philosophers, all educated at Somerville College, Oxford, in the late 1930’s. Midgley was a late developer as her first noteworthy article on ‘The Concept of Beastliness’, appeared in the Journal of Philosophy in 1973, five years before the completion of her book Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature, published ...

How Philosophy Can Save Your Love Life

Rare are the books which combine light-touched erudition and insightful confessions. John Kagg’s ‘American Philosophy’ certainly succeeds on both accounts. This title may first appear misleading for an early candid exploration into a failed marriage if the author-narrator didn’t prove to be a professional researcher of the origins of this strange outgrowth of the Western tradition: American Philosophy. The accidental discovery of a long abandoned family library in the remote mountains of New Hampshire prompts a most unusual journey of philosophical ...

Can Nothingness Be Defined?

Nothingness is a slippery philosophical concept which despite its apparent immateriality has always intrigued philosophers, theologians and spiritualists of all cultures. Western Philosophy has its roots in Greek thinking and its inherent belief in ‘Being’. In Plato’s case, his entire philosophical system rests on a priori certainty of the ‘existence’ of Pure Ideas. How could we attribute qualities or defects to something without assuming the presence or existence of that ‘something’? By adopting such a position, we are left with ...

Existentialist Novels

The summer months are ideal for making forays into neglected intellectual territories. Existentialist novels are traditionally reduced to two major works: Sartre’s Nausea (1938), a rich study of a character in search of historical as well as ‘existential’ truth and Camus’ The Outsider (1942), whose non-hero finds himself tragically involved in a murder case. But what characterises an ‘existentialist novel’ if not the quest for fundamental answers to perennial questions? In this respect, all of Dostoevsky’s works fit this description and the ...

Philosophy and May ’68 (Part 2)

Among the philosophers who exerted a strong influence on pre and post ’68 Continental philosophy was Jacques Deleuze (1925–1985). The latter explored new ways of thinking in his critical and highly original reinterpretations of Leibniz, Hume and especially Nietzsche’s works. as well as in his forays into psychoanalysis with his collaborator and friend Félix Guattari. Their Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, published in 1972, was a brave attempt at redefining the unconscious as a ‘desire-producing machine’ instead of a hidden theatre ...