Does Early Modern Philosophy Need Leo Strauss?

April 1, 2022
Institute of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University in Krakow

Room 25
ul. Grodzka 52
Kraków 31-044

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Jagiellonian University
Jagiellonian University

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Does Early Modern Philosophy Need Leo Strauss? A Colloquium Leo Strauss is well known for his controversial theory of esotericism – his suggestion that many important figures in the history of philosophy presented their thought in an intentionally misleading or deceptive fashion. In particular, the early modern philosophers such as Hobbes and Spinoza would be held to deliberately conceal their views as part of a strategy to avoid persecution while realizing their key political aim: the promotion of secularization or “critique of revealed religion”, as Strauss defined the Radical Enlightenment in his early book Spinoza’s Critique of Religion. Despite numerous criticisms of Strauss’s “reading between the lines”, the method seems to inspire some of the recent scholarship on the Enlightenment, for example, the evaluation of Spinoza or Hobbes as essentially atheistic (or anti-religious) and materialist thinkers.

  • During the colloquium, we would like to address such questions as:
  • Can historians of early modern philosophy still benefit from the Straussian hermeneutical approach, and if so, then in what way?
  • Are there valid reasons for maintaining the distinction between the content of a philosophical theory and the way its author would conceptualize it?
  • Given that there were venues for distributing subversive ideas in the late 17th and throughout the 18th centuries (known as clandestine literature), is it legitimate to attribute them to authors who did not embrace such ideas or even rejected them?
  • Can “reading between the lines” adequately capture the intention of the interpreted authors, or does it rather consist in illicitly imposing the interpreter’s own view on the text s/he studies?
  • Is the task of the intellectual historian or the historian of philosophy to adequately render the way in which the interpreted author would represent his/her philosophical position, or should s/he rather reconstruct the position from the perspective of his/her own times?
  • As historians of ideas and philosophy, do we have to compromise between historical accuracy and relevance for contemporary readers?

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions, the colloquium is planned to be held in a hybrid form but can also be held entirely online. The registration will open on 28.2.

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March 30, 2022, 11:45pm CET

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