The YUFE Academy lecture series on Philosophical Sources of European Identity (UAntwerp/YUFE) offers a philosophical introduction to the idea of Europe. Far from aspiring to a systematic exposition or largescale historical overview, its intention is to explore a millennial tradition of thought in order to unlock an original perspective on contemporary notions of a (broadly conceived) ‘European identity’. At stake is the power of philosophical ideas, both as shaping factors of a collective European identity and as compelling testimonies that continue to affect the way Europe is understood and experienced today.

Guest lecturers from different university partners will guide you through the series:

  • 16 March  |  14:00-14:50 CET : Aristotle on Civic Friendship. The Framework for Solidarity and Social Democracy - Prof. dr. Ana Gavran Miloš, University of Rijeka
  • 16 March  |  16:00-16:50 CET : In varietate gratiae concordia: how Augustine’s doctrine of grace divided and united Europe - Prof. dr. Anthony Dupont, KU Leuven
  • 22 March  |  18:00-18:50 CET : Ibn Rushd, Religion and Philosophy - Prof. dr. Catarina Belo, The American University in Cairo
  • 23 March  |  17:00-17:50 CET : Giordano Bruno’s Humanism and the Europe of Religious Wars: Tolerance and Fanaticism - ​Prof. dr. Paolo Quintili, Tor Vergata University of Rome
  • 30 March  |  14:00-14:50 CET : Jean-Jacques Rousseau, War and Peace - Prof. Ann Thomson, European University Institute
  • 30 March  |  16:00-16:50 CET : Mary Wollstonecraft and Universal Human Rights - Prof. Herbert De Vriese, University of Antwerp
  • 30 March  |  18:00-18:50 CET : Immanuel Kant and The League of Nations - Prof. Tomasz Kupś, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń

More information on the lecture, lecturer and access to the livestream:

16 March | 14:00-14:50 CET

Aristotle on Civic Friendship. The Framework for Solidarity and Social Democracy

Solidarity and social democracy are important aspects of European identity and the aim of this talk is to present Aristotelian roots of these notions. Aristotle both in his ethics and politics, focuses on happiness (eudaimonia) as an ultimate good of human life. Since friendship and relationships towards others are something that constitutes our everyday life, achievement of the good life, at least for Aristotle, is understood as inevitably dependent upon bonds that we make with other people. Friendship, for ancient philosophers, is however, a much wider concept than the present one that stands for a private and intimate relationship that we choose ourselves. Philia, on the other hand, also includes relationships that we do not choose, such as family relationships, together with those that are not necessarily intimate, like relationships with colleagues from work or those with our fellow citizens. Civic friendship for Aristotle is just one form of friendship and it belongs to the class of advantage friendship since it is based on the recognition of the utility or advantage we get from the relationship. Here I aim to emphasize another aspect of Aristotle’s civic friendship that goes beyond advantage and shows why civic friends do not use each other simply as a means to achieve benefit, but where they genuinely care for their fellow citizens. This specific other-regarding behaviour in civic friendship, realized in polis, can be understood as a model of solidarity or social appropriation and also as a source for understanding specific Aristotelian conception of social democracy. 

Ana Gavran Miloš is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Rijeka, Croatia. She is mainly interested in ancient philosophy, particularly Hellenistic epistemology and ethics, and philosophy of well-being and capability approach. Currently she is working on capabilitarian approach, with a special focus on the development of Aristotelian account of civic friendship within capabilitarian framework and a capabilitarian theory of well-being.

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16 March | 16:00-16:50 CET

 In varietate gratiae concordia: how Augustine’s doctrine of grace divided and united Europe

The question to what extent the thinking of the North-African Augustine (354-430) played a role - directly or indirectly - in important European debates is the central focus of this class. Augustine is believed by many scholars to be a founding father of Western thought, especially of the so-called Latin conceptualization of what theologians and philosophers call grace. This lecture consists of two main parts. First we will briefly review Augustine’s dramatic biography. He lived in a time of ideological plurality, religious fundamentalism, social unrest, economic and political instability. The second part of the lesson will study the impact of Augustine's thinking on grace in three later controversies at important moments in European intellectual history.

Anthony Dupont is research professor in Christian Antiquity at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven (Belgium). His research focuses on divine grace and human freedom in ancient North Africa in general, and more particularly in the writings of Augustine of Hippo and in the Pelagian controversy. More broadly, Dr Dupont is interested in Christian sermons as an emerging literary genre, and in the history of the idea of original sin.

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22 March | 18:00-18:50 CET

​Ibn Rushd, Religion and Philosophy

In The Decisive Treatise on the Harmony between Religion and Philosophy Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126-1198) lays out his views on the reconciliation between philosophy and religion. He writes in his capacity as a Muslim legal scholar, and also as a philosopher. He stresses the obligation of studying philosophy on the part of Muslims who have the intellectual competence for such study. He argues that the message of the Quran is not fundamentally different from the ideas contained in Aristotle’s books. He addresses al-Ghazali’s criticisms against the philosophers, stating that no condemnation is valid except when there is consensus on matters of doctrine. He also argues for a metaphorical reading of scripture in certain cases. He explains the differences between religious and philosophical discourse, a view that would find echoes later in modern European philosophy.

Catarina Belo is associate professor of philosophy at The American University in Cairo (AUC). She is a specialist in medieval Islamic philosophy. Other research interests include medieval Islamic theology (kalam) and medieval Christian philosophy with a focus on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. She has also conducted research on German Idealism, in particular, Hegel's philosophy. She has authored several books and articles on Islamic philosophy and Hegel. Her translations from Arabic into Portuguese have received an Achievement Award at the 2019 Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation.

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23 March | 17:00-17:50 CET

Giordano Bruno’s Humanism and the Europe of Religious Wars: Tolerance and Fanaticism

The philosophy of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), in the twilight of the age of European Humanism, represents one of the highest attempts to reconcile the conflicts and fractures generated during the 16th century between the different religious sects, following the establishment of the Lutheran Reformation. In his peregrinations throughout Europe in the second half of the 17th century, between Calvinists, Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics, Bruno proposed an ideal of universal natural religion and a philosophical idea of “God'” – as the One-Whole – that could silence disputes and thus find common ground for dialogue and peace. A pluralist philosophy of tolerance, which “expels” all forms of intolerance and fanaticism in society. After a nine-year trial, a failed ideal came to a tragic end, at stake in Campo de' Fiori, in Rome (17 February 1600). After outlining a precise historical framework of the events that led to this tragic outcome, the lecture will focus on some highlights of Bruno's works, in particular The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast (1584) and The Cabala of Pegasus (1585), published in London, in which Bruno proposes his own concept of Divinity and his vision of an infinite Universe, in which man, only by renouncing his own “centrality”, within such a multi-centered universe, can find the right path to a just life in harmony with other men. This is one of the deep roots of our current ideal of a united Europe, governed by the principles of mutual tolerance and democracy.

Paolo Quintili is Associate Professor of History of Philosophy at «Tor Vergata» University in Rome. He deals with the Mind-Body Problem, the History of western Materialism and Rationalism, the foundations of modern Rationality with the relationships between Philosophy and the Arts in general, in particular with Philosophy and Literature and Philosophy and Theater. He completed his PhD studies in France, at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, where he received the PhD (1999) and the HDR (Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, 2006). From 2010 to 2016 he was Directeur de Programme at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris, where he directs the philosophical series «Rationalismes» at the publisher L'Harmattan. He is the author of different books and essays on modern and contemporary philosophy, clandestine, materialist and heterodox philosophical literature and tradition, on the French Enlightenment, Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach and Spinoza (La pensée critique de Diderot. Matérialisme, science et poésie à l’âge de l’Encyclopédie. 1742-1782, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2001; Matérialismes et Lumières. Philosophies de la vie autour de Diderot et de quelques autres. 1709-1789, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2009). He recently edited the Italian critical edition of D. Diderot, Philosophical works, novels, short stories (Milan, Bompiani, 2019) and the book: Filosofie a teatro. Studi di messa in scena filosofica delle idee (Milan, Biblion, 2021).

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30 March | 14:00-14:50 CET

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, War and Peace

In 1761, during the Seven years’ War, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published Extrait d’un projet de paix perpétuelle [Extract from a project for perpetual peace], summarising the work called Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe originally written in 1712 (during the War of Spanish Succession) by Charles-Irénée Castel, abbé de Saint-Pierre. Rousseau’s short text was published posthumously in his Complete Works under the title Projet de paix perpétuelle, together with comments on Castel’s text. In it, Rousseau outlines Castel’s plan for peace in Europe by the signature of a general treaty creating a federal authority, but also develops his own views on the subject, including reflection on Europe’s past and its present disunified state. He defends a confederative form of government for Europe and provides details on how to bring this about and the form it should take, but expresses his scepticism as to the realistic possibility of putting the project into practice. This work is thus an interesting document not only for aspects of Rousseau’s political thought, but also his understanding of Europe and its identity, both geographically and culturally. This lecture will discuss these ideas in their context, including the view of human nature underlying the text, compare Rousseau’s position with Castel’s, and reflect on eighteenth-century understandings of Europe as the theatre of war.

Ann Thomson is Emerita Professor of Intellectual History at the European University Institute. She has published widely on the intellectual history of the long Eighteenth Century in Europe, and more specifically on the ‘Natural History of Man(kind)’, thinking about non-Europeans – in particular European views of the Moslem world – and the development of racial thinking, as well as the circulation of ideas and information, cultural transfers, intellectual networks and translation.

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30 March | 16:00-16:50 CET

Mary Wollstonecraft and Universal Human Rights

One of the major contributions of the French Revolution was that it introduced the idea of universal human rights to broad sections of the population in Europe. The idea was anything but uncontroversial, but would have a lasting influence on the new political culture of modernity. To explain why that is so, this lecture focuses on the writings and philosophical ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), for two significant reasons. First, because of Wollstonecraft’s compelling vindication of the rights of man and the rights of woman against the position of Edmund Burke (1729-1797), ‘founding father of modern conservatism’ and one of the fiercest critics of the French Revolution. While Burke emphasized the role of tradition and custom in establishing civil rights, Wollstonecraft, an outspoken defender of the Enlightenment, argued that rights ought to be founded on reason and be conferred because they are just, irrespective of gender, class and tradition. Second, because Wollstonecraft, often hailed as the ‘mother of feminism’, radicalized and irreversibly changed the political impact of equal rights by extending the ‘rights of man’ to women. As a result, the idea of universal human rights was no longer exclusively limited to civil and political liberties in the public sphere, but now began to infiltrate and reconstruct the entire social fabric, since it overturned men’s rights to restrict women’s freedom in the private sphere. Hence, her defense of universal rights implied a political revolution on two fronts.

Herbert De Vriese is professor at the Centre for European Philosophy of the University of Antwerp. His central research interests concern the transformation of Western philosophy in the transition between Hegel and Nietzsche, the so-called 'revolutionary break' in nineteenth-century philosophy. In a broader perspective, he examines the interaction between the history of philosophy and the history of culture to develop a conception and critical consideration of modern European culture. His main expertise in this field relates to the genesis and history of modern Europe from the perspective of secularization and disenchantment theory.

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30 March | 18:00-18:50 CET

Immanuel Kant and The League of Nations

Immanuel Kant's philosophy remains an enormous influence on philosophy, ethics, law, and politics to this day. But did the philosopher, who spent his whole life in Königsberg, influence his closest neighbours, the Poles? At the beginning of the 19th century, did Poles recognize the potential of Immanuel Kant's philosophy? It is my intention to present the specifics of the first reception of Kant's philosophy in Poland. Unfortunately, it is mainly an account of obstacles and failures. I will present the most important episodes of this history and formulate hypotheses concerning their causes. I will start by presenting Kant's ambivalent attitude towards Poles. Then, I will present the ‘Polish motif’ in Kant's essay Toward perpetual peace (Zum ewigen Frieden) and the achievements of the first Polish supporters of Kant’s philosophy. Finally, I will present the Polish opponents of Kant’s philosophy and explain the reasons for their criticism of transcendental philosophy. I intend to characterize a hitherto insufficiently researched part of the history of Polish philosophy. It is the period of the late Enlightenment, in which Poles attempted to develop science despite the lack of their own nation state. The struggle to preserve national sovereignty was reduced to a concern to preserve the identity of their own culture. Between the modern scholasticism of the late 18th century and the romanticism and messianism of the 19th century, there lies a still little-known part of the cultural and educational history of the area which today is occupied by countries such as Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Russia. Polish Enlightenment (1740-1822) took place in special political and cultural circumstances and was mainly the work of clergy and Francophiles. One of the greatest achievements of this period was the education reform carried out by the National Education Commission (1773-1794), and one of the most important assumptions of the reform was the dissemination of natural sciences, for which the philosophical justification was given by sensualism and empiricism. The success of what was understood in Poland by “Enlightenment” was to be achieved thanks to a careful selection of philosophical inspirations. Speculative philosophy, especially German, was treated as an obstacle not only to the success of the education reform, but also as a threat to the cultural identity of the Polish nation. That is why the reception of German philosophy at the beginning of the 19th century was unofficial and even underground.

Tomasz Kupś is professor at the Institute of Philosophy of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (Poland). His interests include the history of modern philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and Polish philosophy of the 19th century. His particular field of interest is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and its reception in Poland. He is currently conducting a research programme on the scientific and didactic activity of the German philosopher Johann Heinrich Abicht at the Imperial University of Vilnius, 1804-1816.

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