Prof. Jonathan Israel, one of the world’s most important intellectual historians, gave the keynote lecture at a recent interdisciplinary symposium held at DCU, on the theme of ‘Choosing Directions in a Republic’ (podcasts of the lectures are available here.)
Based at the Institute for Advanced Study, at Princeton, Prof. Israel is best known for a monumental trilogy of texts – most notably Radical Enlightenment – that considers the emergence of the Enlightenment, in the seventeenth century, and its later manifestations. He is currently finishing a fourth volume, part of which he presented at DCU.
Roughly summarized, Prof. Israel has suggested that the core ideas and values of the modern world were forged in the early, radical, Enlightenment of the seventeenth century (especially as exemplified by the work and impact of Baruch Spinoza) – and that, to some extent, those we might think of as more typically ‘Enlightenment’ figures in the eighteenth century (Rousseau and Voltaire, for example), draw back from the full force and implications of those more revolutionary, earlier, claims.
The way in which he has argued for this broad thesis has been described, variously, as “ground-breaking”, “magnificent and magisterial”, and “breathtaking”; even his critics have accepted that, for anyone interested in the formation of the modern world, his work is now a major feature of the intellectual landscape.
Sponsored by the School of Theology, Philosophy, and Music, and organised by Dr Bartholomew Begley, post-doctoral researcher in the School, the one-day symposium brought together six scholars from Ireland and Britain, as well as Prof. Israel. Through the course of the day, Dr Andreas Hess (Sociology, UCD) spoke on Judith Shklar’s analysis of the origins of modern liberal thought in terms of the ‘liberalism of fear’. Dr Eoin Daly (Law, NUI Galway) gave a presentation on Rousseau, focussing especially on the themes of austerity and freedom. Dr Colin Reid (History, Sheffield) examined legal arguments surrounding the abolition of the 18th century Irish parliament. Dr Úna Ní Bhroméil (History, Limerick) gave a presentation on the figure of John Quinn vis-à-vis wider Irish America and attitudes to the first world war. Dr Barty Begley (Philosophy, DCU) spoke on Walter Lippmann’s political views, and their origins. And Dr Ian Leask (Philosophy, DCU) looked at the ‘proto-feminism’ of the early modern Irish philosopher John Toland.
All involved agreed that the symposium had proven a great success, not least because of Prof. Israel’s involvement.
Podcasts of Professor Israel's lecture as well as others from the day can be accessed here.