Frederick the Great and the Philosophy of the Enlightenment

November 3, 2023 - November 4, 2023
University of Bucharest



University of Bucharest
University of Bucharest

Talks at this conference

Add a talk


Frederick II of Brandenburg-Prussia (1712-1786), also named ‘the philosopher king’, played a crucial role in the development of German Enlightenment thought. Recent research, both from a philosophical (Lifschitz) and a biographical (Blanning) point of view, has highlighted Frederick’s contribution to the Enlightenment, as well as his interactions with the great figures of eighteenth-century European philosophy (such as Wolff and his school, D’Alembert, Maupertuis, Voltaire, Du Châtelet). To be sure, his reforming approach decisively influenced the cultural politics and intellectual life of his time, as evidenced by his role in the reorganisation of the Berlin Academy and in the development of the reflection on the freedom of thinking within the framework of enlightened despotism, to name but two points. A fascinating if sometimes controversial figure, both a significant scholar and a central political actor, Frederick played an undeniable role in the elaboration and actualisation of the enlightened ideas of his time. He contributed through essays, discourses, epistolary and literary texts to the Prussian and European philosophical debates. His early admiration for Wolff’s thought was outshined by a predilection for French and British enlightened ideas and a long-lasting interest in Marcus Aurelius and ancient philosophy more generally. Frederick’s philosophical preferences as well as his idiosyncrasies had a compelling impact on the development of Enlightenment thought during his reign, not only owing to the speculative philosophy class of the Berlin Academy he created, but also thanks to the translations and European movements and views he encouraged. His accomplishments as a king did sometimes contradict or threaten to undermine his intentions and ambitions as a prince, and outstanding successes were undoubtedly interwoven with more controversial or conflicting statements and actions – all of which deserve a novel consideration nowadays.

Our conference aims to scrutinize Frederick the Great’s role and influential contribution to the philosophy of the Enlightenment in the light of recent research on his writings (see the English edition of his philosophical writings by A. Lifschitz 2020), on the philosophical endeavour of the Berlin Academy, and, more generally, on the German Enlightenment.


All times are Bucharest times (UTC/GMT +2 hours)


Friday, November 3rd

09:45 – Coffee and Opening

Chair: Tinca Prunea-Bretonnet

10:00-11:00 – Avi Lifschitz (University of Oxford), Frederick the Great at the limits of Enlightenment

11:00-11:15 – Coffee break

11:15-12:15 – Sorana Corneanu (University of Bucharest), “To be in error is our lot in life”: Frederick and the controversy over prejudices

12:15-14:15 – Lunch break

Chair: Sorana Corneanu

14:15-15:15 – Henny Blomme (University of Brussels), Frederick on the innocence of errors of the mind

15:15-15:30 – Coffee break

15:30-16:30 – Tinca Prunea-Bretonnet (University of Bucharest/Romanian Academy), “En le faisant raisonner lui-même”: Frederick on the autonomy of reason and the philosophical spirit

16:30-16:50 – Coffee break

16:50-17:50 – Stephen Howard (University of Leuven), Frederick, Kant, deception, and Enlightenment

19:00 Conference dinner

Saturday, November 4th

Chair: Alexandra Bacalu

09:30-10:30 – François Duchesneau (University of Montreal), Maupertuis’s last memoir to the Berlin Academy: epilogue to a scientific controversy

10:30-10:45 – Coffee break

10:45-11:45 – Fritz Nagel (University of Basel), Frederick the Great, the Bernoulli and Leonhard Euler. Some modest remarks concerning the King’s attitude towards science and scientists

11:45-12:00 – Coffee break

12:00-13:00 Alessandro Nannini (University of Bucharest), “Viel Glück zum neuen collegio”! Frederick the Great, Wolffianism and Meier’s course on Locke

13:00-14:30 – Lunch break

Chair: Alessandro Nannini

14:30-15:30 – Jan Forsman (University of Iowa) and Jani Hakkarainen (Tampere University), The Prince and the Philosopher: Frederick and Émilie Du Châtelet’s “On Freedom”

15-30-15:45 – Coffee break

15:45-16:45 – Richard Elliott (University of London), Nietzsche’s Frederick the Great: the will to deceive, and tensions in the Enlightenment project

16:45-17:15 – Coffee break

17:15-18:30 – Discussion of Alessandro Nannini’s book Il segno e l’immagine. Estetica e semiotica delle arti da Du Bos a Lessing (Mimesis, 2023) with Márcio Suzuki (University of São Paulo)

The conference is organized within the research project “Between Truth and Freedom: Enlightenment Answers to ‘Thinking for Oneself’” (PCE 105/2021, funded by UEFISCDI).

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)




Who is attending?

No one has said they will attend yet.

Will you attend this event?

Let us know so we can notify you of any change of plan.