Idealism as Alternative Modernity, 1

I plan to post my presentation at the Empire of Idealism conference in Prato, Italy, last year.

When I submitted the following abstract, I didn’t know the presenters had only twenty minutes at their disposal:

“In this presentation I will develop further the general exploration and  assessment of modern idealism in my paper at the International Conference on Anglo-American Idealism at Pyrgos, Greece in 2003 and my paper at the Idealism Today conference at Oxford in 2005. The former pointed to some problems with the modern cultural dynamic underlying idealistic philosophy, while the latter was a defence of the needed truths of idealism properly conceived. Now I will deepen the analysis of the relation between the problematic cultural dynamic and the needed truths. In order to do this, I will go back to and discuss some aspects of the German sources of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British empire of idealism, some significant differences between German and British (or Anglo-American) idealism (to some extent idealism in other countries will also be mentioned), and the related differences between the ways in which German and British idealism were criticized and rejected in the course of the twentieth century. I will argue that if a firm grasp of the problems with what I call the ‘pantheistic revolution’ can be achieved, a grasp that makes possible due discernment and selectivity in the reappropriation and continuation of idealistic thought, idealism, far from being a phenomenon of merely historical interest, can be conceived and reformulated as the most important current of modern thought, with a message of lasting and indeed increased relevance. I will restate the claim I have made in other publications and presentations – but only briefly in the mentioned papers – that in particular in the form of so-called ‘personal idealism’, idealism can even be seen to represent central elements of a needed alternative conception of modernity itself. But in line with the broader focus of the Greece and Oxford papers, I will also try to determine to what extent or in what respects that claim can be made for idealism in general, including so-called ‘absolute idealism’.”

It was, needless to say, impossible to do what I thus intended in twenty minutes. Although the abstract was printed in the programme, I could do no more than indicate in the broadest outline what I mean by idealism as alternative modernity. Which, in itself, was of course fine: at some conferences, merely saying something general about ourselves and signalling our present scholarly projects and interests without introducing the full, detailed and complex arguments, and simply being present for each other and available for questions, discussions, and other exchange, is quite sufficiently meaningful. 

Instead of doing what I described in the abstract, I made a more personal presentation with only some rather informal and only very general remarks on the subject. For this reason, I also did not send the paper to the organizers when they later contacted the presenters about publication (there were other good presentations though, so I very much hope their work with the publication is going well). Instead, I will, shortly, publish it here in two parts.

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"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi