School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Intellectual History Research Group seminars

The Intellectual History research group brings together staff and students from across the School who are interested in the history of ideas, intellectuals, and intellectual movements.

All meetings are scheduled to take place in person on Wednesdays, 1-2pm in Room  2.27 of the William Robertson Wing, Doorway 4, Old Medical School. You can get the latest news from the Intellectual History Research Group on Twitter. 

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Semester 2, 2022/23

Date Speaker Topic
Wed 15 Feb Michael Jaworzyn (University of Edinburgh)

'Occasionalism, self-love, and sociability from Geulincx to Schweling'

Arnold Geulincx (1624-1669) – usually known by scholars for his occasionalism, the view that God is the only true cause – was the author of a work of ethics that was surprisingly influential in protestant countries. His untimely death precluded his writing a promised Politics based on the key tenets of his ethics. But his various students and followers took up the task of elaborating his views – especially his students Cornelis Bontekoe (1640-1685), and the Johannes Swartenhengst (1644-1711) in Leiden and Berlin; and in a different context, the influential Bremen professor of physics, law, and ‘universal practical philosophy’, Johannes Eberhard Schweling (1645-1714). These writings are hardly ever addressed by scholars, and I argue constitute original and penetrating attempts to square i) the absolute powerlessness of finite beings and their complete dependence on God, with ii) a consequent claim that self-love is both sinful and the underpinning of the drive to self-preservation, and iii) a discussion (sometimes critical) of the role self-preservation has the foundations of social and political organisation.

The structure of the paper will be as follows: it will first outline the brief remarks made by Geulincx in his extant works relevant to the issue. It will then discuss Swartenhengst and Bontekoe’s use of those Geulingian principles in arguing against tyranny, before turning Schweling. Schweling, as Dreitzel (2002) briefly indicates, incorporates the concept of an ‘eternal soul’ into self-preservation as a motivation for forming societies; Dreitzel does not discuss Schweling’s explicit subscription to Geulingian principles, which serves as his philosophical justification for these moves. Overall, then, I claim that Geulincx’s thought represents an intriguing and frequently overlooked source in early modern debates about the role of self-love, self-preservation and sociability in early modern European thought.

NB This event might be rescheduled due to industrial action

Wed 5 Apr Michael Gill (University of Edinburgh)

'A philosophy of beauty: Shaftesbury on nature, virtue and art' (Princeton, NJ, 2023)

At the turn of the 18thcentury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713), developed the first comprehensive philosophy of beauty to be written in English. It revolutionized Western philosophy. Shaftesbury’s thought profoundly shaped modern ideas of nature, religion, morality, and art. Before Shaftesbury’s magnum opus, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711), it was common to see wilderness as ugly, to associate religion with fear and morality with unpleasant restriction, and to dismiss art as trivial or even corrupting. But Shaftesbury argued that nature, religion, virtue, and art can all be truly beautiful, and that cherishing and cultivating beauty is what makes life worth living. This view had a huge impact on the development of natural religion, moral sense theory, aesthetics, and environmentalism.

Wed 3 May

Jared Holley (University of Edinburgh)

‘Racial equality and anticolonial solidarity: Anténor Firmin in contexts’ 

This paper aims to develop an historical understanding of Anténor Firmin’s political thought by placing it in some of his local and global contexts. I argue that Firmin is productively viewed as engaged in a liberalproject of anticolonial worldmaking, wherein liberalism is necessarily committed to global racial equality and anticolonial solidarity. I begin by assessing his contrast between “true” and “false” liberalism in Haiti,reconstructing his understanding of true Haitian liberalism as committed to the core ideas of historical progress, national regeneration, and the rehabilitation of the black race globally. I then contextualize Firmin’s Equality of the Human Races in metropolitan Paris during his first exile, arguing that his critique of anthropological racism should be seen as integral to his commitment to Haitian liberalism. I then situate his discussion of what he called “European Solidarity” in wider legitimating languages of French colonialism. This recovers Firmin’s neglected critique of colonialism as a reciprocal system of economic exploitation and discursive domination, and his attempt to rescue the universal ideal of solidarity from its truncated expression in languages of racial inequality and practices of colonization.

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