SNFS Consolidator Project, 2024–2029 Department of Philosophy University of Geneva PI: Guillaume Fréchette
Summary The Origins of Contemporary Thought 1837–1938: Texts and Genealogy If European thinking begins with the Greeks, as Bruno Snell once wrote, then contemporary European philosophical thinking begins with the Austrians and the Germans. The analytic-continental divide—the most widely accepted mapping of the vast regions of contemporary European thought—is the most eloquent illustration of this fact. In most histories at the origins of this mapping, the divide finds its source in the geographical space between the Rhine and the Danube, within the timespan of one hundred years, roughly between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. This geographical space and timespan is exceptionally rich: not only does it contain the outstanding cultural and artistic explosion of Fin-de-siècle in the Austro-Hungarian empire through personalities such as Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, Musil, Mahler, Schönberg, Klimt, Kokoschka, etc., but it is also the space in which Austrian economics by Wieser, Menger, von Mises, Böhm von Bawerk, Hayek, etc. emerged at the turn of the century. Given the impressive amount of literature characterising the divide and the exceptional richness of its sources, it is particularly striking that there has been so little historical, philosophical, and editorial work conducted systematically on the sources of the divide. This project aims to fulfil this desideratum by following a threefold objective:
Genealogically, the project will focus on philosophers of the geographical space who are at the origins of the main movements and tendencies of contemporary European thought: Bernard Bolzano (1781–1848), Ernst Mach (1838–1916) and Franz Brentano (1838–1917). Indeed, many of the contemporary innovations in logic, semantics and ontology derive from Bolzano, the ‘Leibniz from Bohemia’, while Mach is the father of the philosophy of the natural sciences and Brentano the originator of contemporary philosophy of mind and phenomenology.
The project will show how these three major figures were involved in the major disagreements concerning the history of the late nineteenth–early twentieth centuries, disagreements which gave rise to contemporary European thought.
The project will provide and make use of primary sources, e.g. the literary remains, correspondence and lecture manuscripts of these three thinkers, and make these materials available in the form of editions and translations, as the very existence of this desideratum derives largely from insufficient or non-existent translations and editions of the primary sources of contemporary European thought and from our largely deficient knowledge of its corpus.
The project aims at a systematic investigation of the sources of contemporary European philosophical thought. Its perspective is innovative in building on the tools of three disciplines, related to the three objectives: (1) intellectual history, (2) philosophy, and (3) philology. The advantage of this threefold perspective is obvious: it allows philosophical analyses to be informed by investigations in intellectual history; it allows philological work to be used as confirmation or complementation of the philosophical analyses and as a documentation source in intellectual history; and it allows intellectual history to be used as an orientation guide in the corpus research involved in philological work. The results of the project will impact all three disciplines. It will give us a new and deeper understanding of the origins of contemporary thought, primarily within the academic disciplines, but also, indirectly, it will affect wider debates on our European identity. Now that we are well into the 21st century, and given the fundamental importance of the questions pertaining to our understanding of contemporary thought, particularly in Europe, both for the present and the future, it is crucial to get a deeper understanding of its sources. By doing so, we get a fuller picture of contemporary European thought, but we also get a fuller picture of who we are. The expected impacts of this project on the research field, both in philosophy and in connected disciplines, are various. The research project has four main fields of impact: first, among historians of philosophy working directly or indirectly on nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy, including not only the Austro-German tradition, but also the neo-Aristotelian and neo-scholastic traditions, the Kantian, postkantian traditions, phenomenology, Gestalt psychology, the Lvov-Warsaw School and analytic philosophy in general; second, among historians of psychology, cognitive sciences and linguistics working on the constitution of the scientific field of modern psychology (e.g. psychophysiology and experimental psychology, first-person psychology, psychoanalysis, Gestalt psychology); third, among analytic philosophers, phenomenologists and cognitive scientists, as the research project and its output will be extremely useful for contemporary philosophers dealing with the ideas and arguments of these three thinkers in current philosophical and psychological debates; and fourth, among researchers in intellectual history and in the field of sociology of knowledge.