Research Day in 18th Century Studies at the University of Sydney

Topic: 18th Century Philosophy in Dialogue

Date: 28 August 2015

The Sydney Intellectual History Network (SIHN) is sponsoring a Research Day in Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Sydney on 28 August 2015. The event supports the efforts of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (ANZSECS) in building a new community of scholars and postgraduate studies from a broad range of disciplines within the humanities.

The Research Day will begin with an interdisciplinary panel discussion with experts from a number of fields speaking on the relationships between philosophy, music, literature, art and architecture during the eighteenth century. Led by Dalia Nassar (Philosophy), the panel features visiting scholar Justin Smith (Université Paris Diderot – Paris VII) engaged in discussion with Jennifer Ferng (Architecture), Alan Maddox (Musicology), Jennifer Milam (Art History) and Matthew Sussman (English Literature). Postgraduate students will then take part in an intensive seminar (full description below) on The Praxis of Philosophy and the Role of the Philosopher in the Eighteenth Century with Professor Smith and Dr Nassar. A public lecture concludes the day with Professor Smith speaking on Philosophy as a Way of Life: Not Just for the Ancients. The date marks the 266th anniversary of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s birth.

Interested postgraduate students currently enrolled in a PhD program at an Australian or New Zealand university may apply by sending a short CV (1-2 pages) and a brief statement of interest (max. 500 words) in a single pdf by 15 July 2015 to Martin King.

Travel support (up to $300) will be available for a limited number of students. Please indicate your interest in applying for travel support on your statement of interest.

Course credit may be possible for particular students. Please check with the postgraduate coordinator in your department.

Seminar Description

Title: The Praxis of Philosophy and the Role of the Philosopher in the long 18th Century


In 18th-century France, philosophy was not only a course of academic study, it was also a fashion, a sensibility, and a way of life. It moved out of the universities and into the salons, and one’s social status could be significantly impacted by one’s proximity to, or association with, a given current of philosophy. What inspired this interest in philosophy, and which ideas were being popularized and why? What kinds of changes were taking place within philosophy and philosophy’s self-understanding in this new setting? And how did the practice of philosophy transform through dialogue with other modes of knowledge (moral science, poetry and art, as well as natural philosophy)? What, ultimately, was the role and significance of philosophy in the long 18th century?

It seems to us that one crucial dimension of the answer to this question will involve a consideration of contemporary currents in Germany, of the way in which German philosophers of the same era were engaging with and seeking to define their discipline. We propose to look at the continental circulation of ideas in the 18th century in order to learn, if we can, how the tension between competing conceptions of philosophy, as produced and maintained in very different but closely interconnected national traditions, helped to shape the conception of philosophy that we have today.

Questions which we will be considering:

1) What is the relationship between salon culture and philosophy in the 18th century?

2) What were the social forces in 18th century France that made it suddenly so important for people to become literate in philosophy? What were the causes of the phenomenon that the French call ‘vulgarisation‘? Or we might call the democratization of philosophy?

3) How did these new social and learning spaces (the salons) transform gender identities and the meaning of literacy for women?

4) Which ideas exactly were being popularized in the salons and why?

5) What were the philosophical and political commitments of the salon?

6) How did philosophy define itself in contrast to other disciplines and modes of knowledge?

7) What kinds of transformations were taking place within philosophy, on account of new insights into the natural world and new forms of art?

8) What might be described as a philosophical form or mode of knowledge and how does it differ from other modes of knowledge?

9) What exactly was ‘enlightened’ about the new philosophical ideals? Can we find undercurrents of the older idea of what inquiry into nature involves in these new ideals?