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Philosophy and history: is a relationship still possible?

The connection between philosophical and historical studies, characterizing in Italy a long tradition of thought and teaching, seems to have loosened over recent years and it is no longer agreed upon. On the one hand, history no longer seems to constitute for contemporary thinkers a subject for philosophical reflection as interesting as other forms of reality and branches of knowledge.

On the other hand, the historical dimension of philosophy seems to have undergone a conspicuous process of oblivion, with a tendency to construe philosophical activity as a discussion about problems which only apparently change over history and are rather to be considered non-historical, even eternal.


So, while philosophy of history has become a completely unfashionable topic, history of philosophy has been degraded to an ancillary discipline, useful at best in view of a more cunning personal practice of philosophy, but deprived of philosophical worth in itself and lacking sufficient recognition even by professional historians.


This implies a considerable change since the post-war period, when the historical study of philosophy, situated in a sort of ideal middleness between continuity and discontinuity with the neo-idealistic tradition of thought, almost seemed to form a high road for the renewal of the philosophical profession as it was previously practised in Italy. If its relationship with today's philosophy seems to have become more and more problematic, over recent years philosophical historiography has also been confronted with the development, in Italy and abroad, of historiographical disciplines which, while apparently akin to history of philosophy, actually try to overcome it by widening their field of interest beyond the boundaries of philosophy.


The relationship between history of philosophy and history of culture, history of ideas, history of concepts, intellectual history, still remains a matter of discussion, with special regard to the alleged tendency of the latter to weaken rather to strengthen the properly philosophical vocation of the historical study of philosophy. Moreover, history of philosophy can appear even more questionable if we conceive erudition  at its distinctive feature, thus situating at its center a kind of retrieval and classification of historical materials which is utterly alien to a philosophy increasingly conceived by many as based on formal reasoning.


What is at issue in all these debates, however, is not just the fate of history of philosophy viewed as specialist discipline, but the very idea of philosophy, or in other words if and how much philosophy, with its authors and texts, has something to do with the wider sphere of individual, social, political and economic life in which it is inevitably immersed and by which it is conditioned in various ways; more specifically, if and how much philosophy is affected by the parallel development of other cultural phenomena, such as science, art, religion, etc. In question is whether and to what extent the historical context and the sources of a philosophical text are to be seriously taken in account in the process of its interpretation.


Philosophy, as indifferent to its historical dimension, is in the end profoundly different from a philosophy considered inseparable from its historical roots. It is true, at the same time, that a philosophy claiming for itself a kind of independence from historical roots and contexts is not able, by way of this simple declaration, to sever every link with such context and roots, nor to put avoid the fate of being studied, eventually, through historical lenses.


Topics of interest for submission include, but are not limited to:



- the relationship between philosophy and history, the latter being understood as both an object of philosophical reflection and as a more or less constitutive dimension of philosophical reflection itself;


- the history of philosophy as philosophical and/or historical knowledge;


- the relationship between history of philosophy and history of ideas, history of concepts, history of culture, history of science, intellectual history, archeology of knowledge, gender studies, etc.;


- the debate over history of philosophy in the last decades in Italy and abroad;


- the role of erudition, considered in its connection with the originality of thought and critical knowledge;


- the social, national and linguistic embeddedness of philosophy;


- the role of history of philosophy in relation with the status of philosophy in contemporary academia and withing the teaching of philosophy in institution of primary and secondary education. 


Deadline: 05/11/2020


Libertinism: Philosophy and Writing

Editors: Prof. Nicole Gengoux, IHRIM - ENS de Lyon,
Dr. Valentina Sperotto, UniSR


René Pintard in his fundamental study Le libertinage érudit dans la première moitié du XVIIe  siècle already highlighted the difficulty in distinguishing between the illustration of a sincere fideism and that of a strategic fideism, expressed in order to disguise otherwise risky affirmations. The authors that Pintard defines as “erudite libertines” of the seventeenth century, a period when, like everyone else, even atheists and sceptics died “well confessed and having received Holy Communion”, were masters of hypocrisy by necessity. The same also went for the thought of the following century, the century of Reason and the Enlightenment, in which freedom of expression was still but a claim and the systems of censorship in force in the different states often forced thinkers to publish underground, or under a false name and place of publication. 

One of the aspects characterizing the works of libertine philosophers is therefore the tension between the necessity to express their philosophical thought and the need to dissimulate it to avoid the censor’s knife. Codes known by restricted circles, implicit and double meanings, allusions and indirect references, as well as forms of self-censorship make libertines’ texts particularly obscure. In the seventeenth century, the phenomenon was more marked because the prohibitions were more stringent, whereas in the eighteenth century the censor’s and authority’s net was less tight, and the manners of subterfuge, such as printing works abroad, were relatively easier to put into practice. All the same, it was not a case of everything goes, especially with regard to religion and politics. Hence, in this light, the use of irony, forms of allusion and insinuation are also worthy of investigation. Furthermore, the stylistic choices, which at times step totally outside the traditional literary genres of philosophy, form a crucial aspect of a thought which, while maintaining its coherence, abandons the method typical of some forms of scholastic philosophy and modern rationalism. 

The libertines used the necessity to read between the lines of dissimulated writing to seek to create a space where, despite its indirect and limited disclosure, they could freely question the dogmas of religion, materialist and atheist theses, express forms of scepticism and dispute the political power. This indirect and obscure style enabled the freedom of criticism which is first of all the freedom to lie to power, a form of insubordination that is a key element for philosophical thought to liberate the community in other ways. 

The philological and historical, but also medical, mathematical and physical erudition that typifies libertinism made the work of philosophy more collective than ever, even when it took place outside the institutions, where affirmations are tested for strength by constant comparison and exchanges of opinions. The milieux where the libertines’ works were directed were private clubs or salons in particular, ranging perhaps from the Académie des frères Dupuy to the Coterie Holbachique: these small societies often formed around an important and authoritative personality, but there were other routes to comparison and collaboration too. Constant exchanges between thinkers emerge in letters, and in their actual works, whether discreetly or through explicit references to each other, putting together an ideal libertine library. 

Although some characteristic traits can be identified, libertinism probably cannot be deemed a true philosophical current. Indeed, we should question the very terms “libertine” and “libertinism” before defining them. The terms were introduced by Pintard, but those authors given the label of “libertine” did not define themselves as such. Nevertheless, could the numerous common elements (criticism of religion, use of ancient philosophical sources, natural morality) not allow the category of “libertinism” to be attributed a certain philosophical coherence? What is more, the understanding of this category in connection with early modernity could evolve and maybe even take on a new meaning in the present day.


Authors can propose contributions which seek to investigate the various aspects of libertine thought. Particular attention should be paid to the stylistic elements, with reference to a time span covering the start of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century. The main topics of interest are:


  • Definition of philosophical libertinism: history, definitions, critical interpretations.

  • Libertinism as critical philosophy: limits of expression and problems of interpretation, proposals for new readings.

  • Analysis of literary genres, stylistic aspects and writing strategies as ways of dissimulation and expression in libertine philosophical thought. 

  • Forms of collaboration and collective work between libertine philosophers: analysis of works and correspondence, indirect quotes and use of other people’s texts, libertine library. 


Delivery deadline: 31 March 2022


Potential contributors must send their articles, including abstract, keywords and complete institution details, to the following address: ​


Accepted manuscripts are published free of charge. 

Manuscripts submitted to the journal must not be sent to other publications for review.

Filosofia e storia: una relazione ancora possibile?

Il legame tra studi filosofici e studi storici, consacrato in Italia da una lunga tradizione di pensiero e insegnamento, sembra essersi allentato negli ultimi anni e non formare più un fatto convenuto. Da un lato la storia appare costituire una materia di riflessione non più tanto interessante per la filosofia quanto altre forme del reale e rami del sapere maggiormente frequentati dai pensatori contemporanei.


Dall'altro la dimensione storica della filosofia appare esser fatta oggetto di un processo di oblio accentuato, tendente a conferire all'attività dei filosofi il carattere di una discussione intorno a eterni problemi via via solo diversamente formulati, ma riducibili attraverso la chiarificazione dei concetti e del linguaggio a una sostanziale continuità nel tempo, o perfino identità.


Se la filosofia della storia decade così a una disciplina fuori moda, la storia della filosofia degrada a una disciplina ancillare, utile nel migliore dei casi a fornire una strumentazione preliminare a una più scaltrita pratica personale della filosofia, ma priva di un valore filosofico intrinseco e orfana di un sufficiente riconoscimento da parte degli stessi storici di professione.


Vistoso appare il cambiamento rispetto al secondo dopoguerra, quando lo studio storico della filosofia, situato in una sorta di medietà ideale fra continuità e discontinuità con la tradizione neoidealistica, parve costituire quasi una sorta di via preferenziale allo svecchiamento del mestiere di filosofo come praticato in Italia.


Se il rapporto con la filosofia attuale sembra essersi fatto più controverso e problematico, la storiografia filosofica è altresì venuta sempre più a doversi misurare negli anni passati con discipline storiche in apparenza affini, ma non riducibili a essa, che dapprima all'estero e poi anche in Italia ambiscono a costituirne il superamento, ampliando la loro competenza oltre gli stretti limiti della filosofia. Il rapporto tra la storia della filosofia e la storia della cultura, la storia delle idee, la storia dei concetti, la storia intellettuale rimane materia di discussione, spesso assunto come fattore di impoverimento più che di arricchimento della dimensione specificamente filosofica dello studio storico della filosofia.


E ancor più problematico si presenta il carattere della storiografia filosofica se intesa come sapere erudito, che proprio in quanto tale si pretende da più parti sia da stimarsi estraneo al sapere filosofico fondato sul ragionamento formale, anziché sul reperimento e la classificazione di materiali storici. In questione appare esser dunque non soltanto la sorte di una disciplina specialistica, ossia la storia della filosofia, ma la concezione stessa della filosofia: se e quanto la filosofia, con i suoi autori e testi, abbia a che fare con la sfera più vasta della vita individuale, sociale, politica, economica, nella quale si trova suo malgrado immersa essendone variamente condizionata; se e quanto la filosofia risenta del parallelo sviluppo di altri fenomeni culturali come scienza, arte, religione ecc. In questione è se e fino a che punto il contesto e le fonti di una particolare filosofia siano da prendere in seria considerazione ai fini di una comprensione davvero adeguata di detta filosofia.


La filosofia, considerata come attività indifferente alla propria dimensione storica, è in fondo tutt'altra cosa dalla filosofia concepita come inseparabile dalle proprie radici storiche; né solo per questa sua asserita astoricità una filosofia che si voglia indifferente alla storia potrà dirsi davvero una filosofia senza storia e ritenersi situata al riparo, come tale, dall'indagine storica.

Contributi di interesse per il presente fascicolo del « Giornale critico di storia delle idee» saranno dunque tutti quelli che affrontino in vario modo e dalle più diverse angolature i temi qui sopra accennati, ma più in particolare:

- il rapporto tra filosofia e storia, intesa quest'ultima sia come oggetto di riflessione filosofica sia come dimensione più o meno costituiva della riflessione filosofica stessa;

- la storia della filosofia come sapere filosofico e/o come sapere storico;

- la parentela fra storia della filosofia e storia delle idee, storia dei concetti, storia della cultura, storia della scienza, storia intellettuale, archeologia del sapere, gender studies ecc.;

- il dibattito degli ultimi decenni sulla storia della filosofia in Italia e all'estero;

- il ruolo dell'erudizione, considerata nel suo nesso con l'originalità di pensiero e il sapere critico;

- il radicamento sociale, nazionale, linguistico della filosofia;

- il ruolo della storia della filosofia nello statuto universitario degli studi filosofici e ai fini dell'insegnamento scolastico della filosofia. 

Termine ultimo di consegna: 05/11/2020


Call for Papers

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