Scholars are welcome to submit a paper proposal. Paper proposals (max. 400 words) should be sent, together with a CV, to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline: September 1, 2009.
Over the last fifty years, much discussion has occurred on the different ways in which the major ideals of the Enlightenment period were put into action at the time – one of the results of that debate has been the identification of several conflicting visions of the origins of Modernity. In their book Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947), Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno accuse the Enlightenment period of having generated modern Totalitarism, through the abusive glorification of the power of Reason. More recently, some conservative thinkers have suggested that all the major ideas of the Enlightenment should be relegated to the past; they have been at great pains to stress the temporal distance separating us from a period that should not be seen as a cornerstone of Modernity, but rather as a remote past that we should now confine to oblivion. More convincingly, Reinhard Koselleck calls the period a « Sattelzeit » (« a threshold », or literally « an epoch-saddle »), since during the Enlightenment, people became highly conscious of their own age as a period of transition; the ideas of progress, of movement, of History had acquired a new meaning. A desire to perpetuate or to renovate Tradition yielded to what Koselleck calls an « Erwartungshorizont », that is, a clear conception of a better future, achieved through experience and with the will to progress. This expectation of a better future, if it were to be satisfied, would require the application of Action; History is seen as a long struggle for the realization of lofty aims.
The dialectics between Knowledge and Action occupied the thoughts of many thinkers during the Enlightenment; it even caused the definition of new tasks, and of new missions to be carried out by new personae. In his most idealized form, the « philosophe » exemplify a legislator, an adviser to kings and princes. At the beginning of the French Revolution, it was commonplace to assume that the Law, defined by Reason and formulated with the help of the Philosophes, could impose itself through its sheer strength, without recourse to any executive power; that idea was soon dismissed as a mere dream during the Consulat and under the First Empire. However, throughout the eighteenth century, practical knowledge became a great subject of interest : all sorts of techniques, from the most complex to the most down-to-earth, had long been despised as unworthy of the attention lavished on the Liberal arts; they now acquired a new dignity, especially in a publication such as the Encyclopédie which accords them a very important place. In conclusion, the impact of Theory was widely discussed at the time; as such it remains a central issue in our interpretation of the Enlightenment.
Reason has rightly been seen as a central value of the period, to the point that it is often viewed as its major and defining feature. However, this simplistic view tends to overlook the complex processes involving the application of Theories during the eighteenth century. In Antiquity, the theoros designated the traveller. Sent off by his City in an official capacity, the theoros would visit a place of pilgrimage, a sanctuary or a famous oracle, in order to attend a ritual show. Theoria designates the full experience of the journey – from the moment when the traveller leaves the threshold of his house, to the moment when he has safely returned to his family. During the IVth century BCE, the new discipline of philosophy appropriated the word theoros. Plato and Aristotle elaborated a new content for the word. The philosopher thus becomes a theoros by metaphor, because he travels in the world of ideas. Having travelled, he returns home, but as a man whose mind has been altered by his experience. This philosophical exercise is characterized by a pure enjoyment of liberty, as Aristotle pointed out in his Protreptics.
Of course, during the Enlightenment period, Reason is often seen as the ultimate instru-ment of legitimacy. However, many philosophers like Rousseau, Quatremère de Quincy or Vico opposed this view vigorously. But above all, it is important to analyze the different situations where Theory is at stake, as it is being used in different fields of application.
The relation between theoretical discourse and practice should be examined in a broad dimension, including the material ways in which ideas were transmitted within Society. Roger Chartier points out that « la production, non pas seulement des livres, mais des textes eux-mêmes, est un processus qui implique, au-delà du geste de l’écriture, différents moments, diffé-rentes techniques, différentes interventions (…). Le processus de publication, quelle que soit sa modalité, est toujours un processus collectif, qui implique des acteurs nombreux et qui ne sépare pas la matérialité du texte de la textualité du livre. »
The following themes might be explored:
- A study of human practices, with the help of a new, anthropological outlook.
- The relationship between descriptive and normative methods, between observation and prescription.
- The ways in which Theory impacts on different fields of knowledge, such as political philosophy, esthetics, law.
- The building up of networks, of systems designed to disseminate ideas.
- Discussions of the relationship between action and ethics, and of the moral limits to any action, for example in the economic world; debates on the relation between individual actions and collective forces.
- The representation of Reason as it emerges in time, and considered in either an optimistic or a pessimistic perspective.
The colloquium should provide an ideal opportunity for younger scholars to meet experi-enced specialists. Guest speakers will be invited to propose new reflections on the theme pro-posed, and to sketch out the state of research in their field. Younger scholars will be selected through a Call for papers.
Institut d'histoire de l'art et de muséologie
Université de Neuchâtel
Espace Louis-Agassiz 1
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