The lecture series Philosophical Sources of European Identity (UAntwerp/YUFE) offered a philosophical introduction to the idea of Europe. Far from aspiring to a systematic exposition or largescale historical overview, its intention was 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 was 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.

24/02 - The Idea of Europe: Between the Quest for Truth and the Spirit of Irony (Guido Vanheeswijck)

The Idea of Europe: Between the Quest for Truth and the Spirit of Irony
Prof. dr. Guido Vanheeswijck (University of Antwerp)
Thursday 24 February, 16:00 - 17:00 CET

The idea of Europe is way older than the political structure of the EU. In this lecture, the idea of Europe is presented as the continual probing of other threads. In the terminology of Paul Harzard: “What is this Europe? A spirit that is for ever seeking. Unsparing of herself, she is ceaselessly pursuing two goals: one of them is Happiness; the other – and this she holds the more vital and more dear – is Truth. No sooner does she make some discovery that seems to her to satisfy her twofold need, than she suspects, nay, she knows, that what she grasps, all too precariously, is, after all, but a temporary, an imperfect thing.” This presentation of the idea of Europe has three striking features. First of all, it is linked to the refusal to accept a definitive identity. Next, the formulation is borrowed from a foundational text in the European tradition, namely Homer's Odyssey, in which Penelope, the grieving wife of Odysseus, pulls out at night the threads of the shroud for her old father-in-law Laertes that she has woven during the day. The construction of an identity, the text suggests, is inextricably linked to a specific relationship with her own tradition. And finally, the provisional nature of the European identity - paradoxical at first sight - goes hand in hand with its orientation towards universal values. Just as Penelope is constantly trying out different threads out of enduring loyalty to Ulysses and in expectation of his return, the sound of the European looms betrays the restlessness of a search for the ever-shifting horizon of happiness and truth. If there is a European identity, it is built on incessant self-questioning and questioning of its own presuppositions. The idea of Europe is inextricably linked to the threads that Penelope keeps pulling out of the cloth she has woven during the day.

Guido Vanheeswijck is full professor at the Department of Philosophy at University Antwerp and part-time professor at the Institute of Philosophy of Catholic University Louvain. His central domains of scholarly research are philosophy of culture, philosophy of religion, metaphysics and the relation between literature and philosophy. From 2006 till 2012, he was chairman of the Centre Pieter Gillis, the centre for active pluralism at the University of Antwerp. As to the topic of this course, he wrote the monograph De Draad van Penelope. Europa tussen Ironie en Waarheid [Penelope’s Thread: Europe between Irony and Truth] (Polis, 2016).

10/03 - Aristotle on Civic Friendship. The Framework for Solidarity and Social Democracy (Ana Gavran Miloš)

Aristotle on Civic Friendship. The Framework for Solidarity and Social Democracy
Prof. dr. Ana Gavran Miloš (University of Rijeka)
Thursday 10 March, 15:00 - 16:00 CET

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 an 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.

10/03 - An Augustinian Europe: The Raiders of The Lost Grace (Anthony Dupont)

An Augustinian Europe: The Raiders of The Lost Grace
Prof. dr. Anthony Dupont (KU Leuven)
Thursday 10 March, 16:00 - 17:00 CET

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.

24/03 - From Giordano Bruno to Baruch Spinoza: Renaissance’s Naturalism, Pantheism and Tolerance. Europe’s Foundation of Modernity (Paolo Quintili)

From Giordano Bruno to Baruch Spinoza: Renaissance’s Naturalism, Pantheism and Tolerance. Europe’s Foundation of Modernity
Prof. dr. Paolo Quintili (Tor Vergata University of Rome)
Thursday 24 March, 15:00 - 16:00 CET

The modern idea of Europe is based on an ancient myth: the rape of the nymph Eurwph, which Jupiter carries out, in the guise of a white bull, to lead her to the shores of Crete, where he joins her and Europa gives birth to Minos, the first king of the civilization later known as «European». After more than a millennium of oblivion, the name and the universalist idea of «Europe» rebirths in modern times during the Renaissance. It was Giordano Bruno who resurrected the name of the myth in his great dialogue: The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast (Lo spaccio della bestia trionfante, Paris, 1584). Bruno’s vitalistic naturalism is aimed at attempting to put a stop to the spread of fanaticism (the «Triumphant Beast»), during the wars of religion, in the name of a new ideal of political universality. Bruno presents Europe as a sacrificial virgin violated by the barbarian powers of superstitious fanaticism. In order to restore its dignity, a brave prince (Henry III of France), a new Hercules, will uproot the evil plant of rhetoricians and false truths, imposing mutual tolerance and dialogue. Bruno’s utopia, which ended tragically with his burning at the stake, in Rome, on 17 February 1600, would take shape again in 17th century Holland with Spinoza and his Theological-Political Treatise (1670). The central theme of the Treatise would no longer be «tolerance» and dialogue alone, but a systematic project of human emancipation and liberation from all forms of prejudice and oppression. The notion of «individual and civil natural right» (chapters XVI and XX), in Spinoza, founds a new form of rationalistic universalism, the basis of the modern idea of a Europe of free individuals and peoples.

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).

24/03 - The Humanistic Epistemology of Thomas Hobbes (Ioannis Christodoulou)

The Humanistic Epistemology of Thomas Hobbes
Prof. dr. Ioannis Christodoulou (University of Cyprus)
Thursday 24 March, 16:00 - 17:00 CET

In the first five chapters of the first part of his Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes, probably the most controversial philosopher of modern times, develops his epistemology. It is well known that Leviathan’s “On man” is the perfect introduction to Leviathan’s “Commonwealth”, at least for his author. As a matter of fact, Hobbes laboriously identifies the human material of his artificial political machine, in order to explain the mode of its alleged ideal operation. In the epistemological part of his analysis in Leviathan’s first part, Hobbes offers a perfect idea of the historical need of his time for a decisive turn towards the identification of the real abilities of the human intellect as well as of the natural restrictions of the intellectual procedures. The removal of the medieval stigma of superstition, as the third of Hobbes’s decisive steps towards the soundness of the thinking endeavor, finalizes one of the most intriguing humanistic accounts of modern philosophy. Th. Hobbes, more than R. Descartes, raised an untimely but reasonable doubt against some of the allegedly self-evident truths of his time, anthropological as well as ontological ones. Thus, he definitely should be counted among the early forerunners of European Enlightenment, who crafted one of the unique characteristics of the European identity we celebrate today: the endless pursuit of revolutionary knowledge.

Ioannis S. Christodoulou studied Pedagogy, Psychology, and Philosophy at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. From 2000 until 2014, he taught at the Hellenic Open University (HOU). Since 2002, he is teaching Philosophy at the University of Cyprus. In 2017 he was a candidate for the first Prize for Teaching Quality of the University of Cyprus. Dr. Christodoulou has been the Chairman of the Biomedical and Clinical Research Bioethics Committee (2010 – 2013 and 2015 – 2018 / National Bioethics Committee of Cyprus).

21/04 - Jean-Jacques Rousseau on War and Peace in Europe (Ann Thomson)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on War and Peace in Europe.
Prof. dr. Ann Thomson (European University Institute, Florence)
Thursday 21 April, 15:00 - 16:00 CET

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.

21/04 - Kant about Poles, Poles about Kant. The Hidden Reception of German philosophy in Poland at the Beginning of the 19th Century (Tomasz Kupś)

Kant about Poles, Poles about Kant. The Hidden Reception of German philosophy in Poland at the Beginning of the 19th Century
Prof. dr. Tomasz Kupś (Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń)
Thursday 21 April, 16:00 - 17:00 CET

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.

05/05 - Thinking After Europe. Jan Patočka and the Decline of European Grand Narratives (Darian Meacham)

Thinking After Europe. Jan Patočka and the Decline of European Grand Narratives
Prof. dr. Darian Meacham (Maastricht University)
Thursday 5 May, 15:00 - 16:00 CET

Europe has known many guises in the history of philosophy. Philosophical interest and indeed concern in what we might broadly call the “idea of Europe” has been expressed not only in terms or “Europe”, but also in terms of a concern for the “West” or even “Christendom”. These ideas were often also expressed in terms on an ideal that performed not only a regulatory function, but was just as often expressed as being under threat from external or internal (decadence) forces. In the aftermath of the disasters of the twentieth century, philosophers tried to piece together the sense of a shattered world and understand what went wrong and how this idea and ideal of Europe could have been so utterly destroyed. This lecture examines one particular instance of the philosophical attempts to make sense of the idea of Europe not so much in the aftermath, but from within the disaster that was the then on-going post-war division of Europe into western and eastern blocks. In this context the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka tried to rethink not only the idea of Europe, but that of the European intellectual faced with not just the decline of Europe, but the decline of the European grand narratives. In the face of a now all-encompassing technological rationality that characterised both ideological spheres of Europe, Patocka tries to re-conceptualise the roles of the intellectual, the opposition, and the “spiritual man”. His response does not lend itself to nostalgia, but rather tries to understand how philosophical praxis can adjust to this new context. His reflections have a startling resonance still today when Europe faces again the onset of global disaster and must muster to resources of technological society to try and avert the worst.

Darian Meacham is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Principal Investigator for Ethics and Responsible Innovation at the BISS Institute. He studied at McGill University in Montreal, Canada (BA) and University of Leuven, Belgium (MA, PhD). His main teaching and research interests are in political philosophy, phenomenology, philosophy of technology, and bioethics. He is particularly interested in questions surrounding the concept of Europe and post-national political institutions; and the political, ethical and anthropological issues raised by new technologies. Darian Meacham is co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Europe (Routledge, 2021) and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology.

05/05 - Regret, Melancholy, and Dialogical Memory. Elements for a European Identity in a Globalized World (Antonio Gómez Ramos)

Regret, Melancholy, and Dialogical Memory. Elements for a European Identity in a Globalized World
Prof. dr. Antonio Gómez Ramos (University Carlos III of Madrid)
Thursday 5 May, 16:00 - 17:00 CET

European identity is made out both of positive memories – a story of progress, Enlightenment, democracy – and negative memories too, especially after the horrors of the 20th century. Despite the success of the EU in keeping peace on the continent and promoting an unprecedented collaboration between nations that had secularly been at war with each other, European identity is a fragile one. Particularly over the last few decades, the memories of two World Wars, Holocaust, totalitarian regimes and the never overtly admitted guilt of colonialism have radically challenged any positive common narrative for Europeans. At the same time, national histories are still presented as self-assertive memories incompatible with neighbours’ histories. In this class, we shall be exploring how the German cultural theorist Aleida Assmann proposes to overcome such difficulties through a dialogical memory that elaborates on the plurality of conflicting narratives, and through a “politics of regret” that focuses on past atrocities, in order to bring together victims and perpetrators and to pave way for a common future. We shall examine the limits and potentialities of Assmann’s project. Some doubt will be cast from reading the pessimistic views held by the German writer W.G. Sebald, for whom, as for Walter Benjamin, human and especially European history is a history of destruction. Can this melancholic pessimism be integrated into the project of a dialogical memory? What happens to the project of a dialogical European Identity when finally confronted with the colonialist past of West European countries, and when a significant part of present Europeans are descendants of the victims of colonialism?

Antonio Gómez Ramos is Associated Professor of Philosophy at the University Carlos III in Madrid, and Head of the Master in Critical Theory of Culture. He studied Philosophy at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and Germanistik at the Humboldt Universität (Berlin), and completed his PhD thesis on Gadamer, Hermeneutics and the Problem of Translation. He has been a visiting professor in various universities in Spain, Brazil and Germany. His research interest are memory studies, philosophy of history, conceptual history, subjectivity, and philosophy of emotions. Apart from translating Hegel, Gadamer and other German philosophers, he has authored several books and articles on Hannah Arendt, Benjamin, German Idealism and Koselleck, among others.