Spinoza & the Arts
Passionate Reason — Symposium
04.10.2019 — 05.10.2019

Jan Vermeulen - Still-life with Books and Musical Instruments, 1660 (detail, collection Mauritshuis Den Haag)
Spinoza & the Arts Passionate Reason

2-day International Symposium
Friday 04.10.2019 + Saturday 05.10.2019

Tickets for 2 days
Regular € 25,00
Student € 10,00
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A child of the liberating power of the printing press, born into a new republic emerging wealthy from the 80 years war, Spinoza was an exemplary early modernist: irreverent, fiercely rational, politically daring.

With: Moira Gatens (AU), Beth Lord (CA), Katja Diefenbach (DE), Mogens Laerke (DK), Andrea Sangiacomo (IT), moderated by Baruch Gottlieb


Spinoza came to be the most prominent of the ‘free-thinkers’ a community of intellectuals which, inspired by Descartes, recently released from the oppressive theocracy of the Spanish Empire, felt entitled to subject the world anew to the full assault of human reason. The sciences, unhindered were to be released towards the full fruition of humanity's potentials. Many of us live in republics informed by the values of the young Netherlands' free-thinkers, places where civil freedoms, of speech and of thought are promoted alongside freedom of religious belief and respect for the rule of law. The successes of the secular state in emancipating science and trade, have generated the contemporary globalised world of advanced technologies, yet paradoxically as the fruits of unhindered intellectually inquiry are more evident than ever, we see the seemingly irrepressible return of tribal rivalry, religious intolerance and anti-intellectual political agendas. What is missing in the tenets of the modern state which permits this recurrence? Why does Spinoza’s secular reform remain incomplete?

This symposium sets as its central concern the status of intellectual freedom: thought for thought’s sake, or thought for the benefit of all? We will examine to what degree freedom is contingent, also in thought, that the thought of all thinkers are not equal so that certain activities of the mind are even excluded from the status of thought. Spinoza argued, in a somewhat confucian trope, that the horizons and latitudes of individual freedom must be compromised in the interest of the maximum emancipation of the civil sphere. But even he, thinking in a republic pampered in the spoils of its colonies, was unsure whether democracy could deliver this. Now, with the Western economies facing decline we must also face an uncomfortable challenge, that our high-minded ideals of individual freedoms may indeed have merely been mainly the conceits of societies atop the global food chain. This symposium will investigate the contours of what we might mean by freedom today, freedom for whom, for what? Is it enough to merely be permitted the freedom to think, or does this imply that we may also act in accordance with our thoughts. At this time of structural crisis it may be time to reformulate the trade off between individual and civic freedom.

Members of the colloquium

Moira Gatens
Challis Professor of Philosophy

The University of Sydney

Beth Lord
Department of Philosophy
University of Aberdeen

Andrea Sangiacomo
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Philosophy
University of Groningen

Katja Diefenbach
Professor, Department of Theory
Merz-Akademie, Stuttgart

Frédéric Lordon
philosopher and essayist
formerly EHSS Paris

Mogens Lerke
Senior researcher (Directeur de recherche) at the CNRS, Paris/Lyon
Secretary of the British Society for the History of Philosophy

More information will follow soon.