Out of Aristotle’s Shadow

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One day, Laura Beatty came across the Characters of Theophrastus, a collection of thirty sketches of negative personality ‘traits’ by a lesser-known associate of Aristotle. Intrigued by their depictions of everyday life, she began what would turn into a ten-year project to retell the story of his life and explore his place in Western thought. […]

Philosopher in Arms

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It took Ludwig Wittgenstein less than seven years to transform himself. In 1911, he was merely the obstinate ‘unknown German’ depicted in one of Bertrand Russell’s letters (and yes, Wittgenstein was Viennese). By August 1918, he had finished the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, widely seen as a masterpiece of 20th-century philosophy. For four of those seven years, […]

Behold the Mountain

Posted on by David Gelber

‘Hiking with Nietzsche’ sounds like the premise of a darkly humorous sitcom or the punishment for an existential crime. Rhetorically ferocious, intellectually conceited and, for much of his life, physically infirm, the 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion. Like John Kaag, the author of Hiking with Nietzsche, I went […]

Yours Logically

Posted on by David Gelber

On 10 January 1919, Hermine Wittgenstein wrote to her brother Ludwig with the latest news. Mama’s cataract operation ‘went very well’. Kurt ‘fell on 27 September, it’s very sad’. Frege has written to say that ‘a few sentences are missing from your work’. Paul will be ‘playing his (very beautiful) clarinet trio everywhere’. Hermine is […]

Being Human

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In 1962, Martin Heidegger went on a cruise to the Aegean. Going to Greece had not been an easy decision. Seven years earlier he had got so far as to buy train and boat tickets; when the enormity of what he was attempting dawned on him, he cancelled the trip. He tried again in 1960, and once more called the trip off. Visiting the homeland of the oracular pre-Socratics and the only truly ‘philosophical’ language apart from German was too much of a risk. When he finally screwed up the courage to take the cruise, he hated the country he found. With Olympia now a mass of ‘hotels for the American tourists’, the ancient site no longer ‘set free the Greek element of the land, of its sea and its sky’. When the boat reached Crete and Rhodes, he stayed on board reading Heraclitus.

Authority Figure

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan is by common consent one of the masterpieces of political theory. Yet its greatness is hard to pinpoint. It lies partly, again by common consent, in the quality of its prose. Even readers horrified by Hobbes’s authoritarian arguments thrill to the manner of their expression. It is a prose as utterly individual […]

Rent in the Fabric

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘My Correct Views on Everything: a Rejoinder to Edward Thompson’s “Open Letter to Leszek Kołakowski”’, Leszek Kołakowski’s response to the hundred-page open letter addressed to him by the noted historian, ends with Kołakowski writing: ‘I hope to have explained to you why, for many years, I have not expected anything from attempts to mend, to […]

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