CANCELED International Conference. (Re)inventing the History of Philosophy, 19.3.-20.3.20

Michael N. Forster (Bonn)
Stefanie Buchenau (Université Paris 8 Saint-Denis UR 1577 Les mondes allemands)
Christian Berner (Universität Paris-Nanterre IREPH)

Historians of philosophy sometimes struggle to defend their place within the philosophical discipline. They tend to hold a subservient status in comparison to systematic philosophers, within a logic opposing “historical” and “systematic” approaches to philosophy: while historians provide explanations about accidental contexts, systematic philosophers offer substantial content. Paradoxically, this opposition between historisch and systematisch seems to meet with particular success in Germany whose long historiographical tradition appears to stand in open contradiction with the very premises on which this opposition is built. Even more paradoxically, it does not seem to have given rise to any deeper critical discussion allowing to either defend or question its validity by means of arguments. In the light of these unresolved methodological tensions, this international conference suggests a return to the beginnings of philosophical historiography. We hope that such an inquiry into the invention of the history of philosophy may serve the aims of its reinvention today.

The history of philosophy seems to be one of the major historiographical inventions of Western modernity. After the first treatises by Johann Jakob Brucker in the first half of the 18th century (Kurtze Fragen aus der Philosophischen Historie, 1731 and Historia critica philosophiae, 1742-44), the history of philosophy became a flourishing textual genre in the 19th century. It was acknowledged and adjusted by authors such as Kant and Hegel before being practiced by a number of followers in the Neokantian and the Hegelian schools such as Kuno Fischer, Wilhelm Windelband, Ernst Cassirer, Nicolai Hartmann and Wilhelm Dilthey. Romantic authors such as Friedrich Schlegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher developed a particular interest in philosophy’s Greek, European and Oriental roots, as illustrated by Schlegel’s essay, On the Language and the Wisdom of the Indians (1808). Later German scholarship (Eduard Zeller, August Boeckh, Christian August Brandis) still relied on these philological and historiographical tools first developed by the Romantics.

Most of these philosophers seemed to endorse a historical model of philosophy, shaped by a larger historicist movement that had emerged in the 18th century. Replacing alternative models such as Ancient doxography and the theological philosophia perennis, this historical model seemed to attest to a new interest in the expression and evolution of thought over timefor philosophy itself. While maintaining their concern with being, truth and necessity rather than change and contingency, philosophers such as Hegel or Dilthey questioned the idea that such truth is necessarily one and that a single philosophy can be true. They advanced the claim that philosophy expresses the restricted perspective characteristic of a historical age. For the sake of self-knowledge, such philosophy must include the reflection of such a historicity and construct a history or philosophy within the philosophical system.

But within this general pattern, the relevance that philosophers ascribed to philosophical historiography, philology, contexts and biography, varied considerably. Even within the German context, some philosophers expressed resistances reminiscent of later objections against the historical approach to philosophy. In his Prolegomena, Kant famously criticizes those historians of philosophy or “scholarly men” who conflate philosophy with its history, who neglect the concerns of the present and whose use of historical analogies conduce them to deny any possible novelty. In the broader European and extra-European context, the “German model” of philosophical historiography gave rise to different forms of appropriations and resistances. While Victor Cousin founded the French tradition of philosophie générale on Hegelian foundations, authors in the early analytical tradition such as Russell and Moore construed their philosophy explicitly against Hegelian (and British) idealism.

This international conference will examine these claims, fluctuating distinctions and histories of philosophy, invented since the 18th century, in the light of the current situation.


Date: 19/03/2020 - 20/03/2020