CFP: Does Early Modern Philosophy Need Leo Strauss?

Submission deadline: February 11, 2022

Conference date(s):
April 1, 2022

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Conference Venue:

Institute of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University in Krakow
Kraków, Poland

Topic areas


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?

Contributions addressing these – and related – questions are welcome. Abstracts not exceeding 350 words should be sent to Anna Tomaszewska ([email protected]), or Hasse Hämäläinen ([email protected]) by 10 February 2022.

Notification of acceptance: 20 February 2022.

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