A culture of thought

Written by Mark Briggs on . Posted in Current publications, Publications

Van DammeProfessor Stéphan Van Damme has published A toutes voiles vers la vérité : une autre histoire de la philosophie au temps des Lumières, the third volume of his trilogy re-addressing the cultural history of philosophy.

The book focuses on the Enlightenment, a period often regarded as one of revolutionary thought. However, at the time those involved associated themselves strongly with the ancient and medieval traditions of philosophy.

“The project aims to undertake a historian’s history of philosophy, not just as knowledge, but as a practice, passion and cultural object.”

“My idea was not to adopt whiggish definitions which in the past stuck to the modern or contemporary definition of philosophy or a philosopher. The idea was to go back to the former definitions, how they saw themselves.”

Like the symposiums during the time of Plato, during the Enlightenment philosophy appeared in public spaces. Salons, theatres, and novels all became centres of learning and debate. Through such mediums philosophy became associated with the emergence of the public sphere, and the idea of the philosopher as the writer and public intellectual began to emerge with the likes of Samuel Johnson, Voltaire and Thomas Paine.

The discipline was moving away from one secluded in monasteries and universities, guarded by monks and hidden in expensive Latin manuscripts. It was returning to something people engaged with in their daily lives as pastime or hobby.

The book explores the new philosophical regime in a historical context, before attempting to re-establish the importance of place in philosophy (“philosophy is not knowledge from nowhere”), finally discussing the politicisation of the discipline.

“This book is an attempt to put the history of philosophy in context.”

Van Damme sees this book as part of a wider project along similar lines. “What I do here at the EUI is a kind of methodological discussion, addressing early modern definitions of science and knowledge and re-contextualising them.

“Could be the founding fathers of the scientific revolutions, institutions, but also disciplines like philosophy. My next project might be to re-address definitions of nature. I have a clear project to deconstruct and reconstruct.”

Van Damme’s first two books in the series looked at Descartes and as the idea of Paris as a philosophical capital.

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