Philosophy is a social activity: while reading and thinking in the quiet of our rooms is one aspect of the discipline, discussing our thoughts with others is also a necessary means for making philosophical progress. Discussion and critical exchange with fellow philosophers helps to develop, sharpen, and strengthen our arguments. In doing the history of philosophy, we do not only converse with our contemporaries but also with past thinkers whose thoughts are only accessible through their writings. Unlike those with whom we can have (or at least could have) direct intellectual exchanges, thinkers of the past cannot correct us when we get them wrong. This is especially difficult since misunderstandings are natural when we encounter writings whose authors in multiple ways “do not speak our language.” To do justice to these texts, we need sensitivity for the historical context: in which historical circumstances did the author live? With which texts is he or she engaging? Are there theological discussions that loom in the background? At Bielefeld University, we understand the history of philosophy as a humanistic, interdisciplinary endeavor, i.e. one that often requires knowledge of the fine arts, literature or music of the period.
In addition to situating past philosophers in their historical context, we also pursue an explicitly analytic approach to the history of philosophy. Philosophers both past and present aim to answer important systematic questions, and reading recent work by contemporary analytic philosophers can help us better understand, and sometimes criticize, historical thinkers’ approaches to specific philosophical problems. By bringing contemporary work to bear on philosophy’s history, we aim to facilitate conversation between ourselves and those who have come before us.
In terms of historical period, we focus on Early Modern and Enlightenment philosophy with a special emphasis on the history of practical philosophy. Due to this focus, we work closely with the chairs of Practical Philosophy as well as Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Law and participate in the research colloquium “Practical Philosophy.”
moral and political contractualism
morality ↔ justice
policy ↔ religion
practical philosophy in the early modern age, especially Suárez, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant and their milieu.
AOS: Early Modern Philosophy (esp. Descartes and Elisabeth of Bohemia)
AOC: Philosophy of Mind (esp. Philosophy of the Emotions), Ethics