Philosophy in the Age of Democracy

Co-presented with the Department of Philosophy, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry

25 March 2014

Plato notoriously condemned the democratic way of life as the second-to-worst form of life, and he equally notoriously recommends rule by philosophers as the only available cure. This suggests a traditional hostility between philosophy and democracy, with philosophers casting themselves as the would-be overlords of politics and culture. Suspicions of this hostility were re-activated after the Second World War by concerns about barbaric political movements supposedly inspired by philosophical outlooks, and in a diminished form, similar suspicions towards philosophy as of interest only to non-representative “elites” sometimes reemerge in discussions of government funding of the humanities.

For good reasons, we have trouble accepting both Plato’s cure and his image of philosophy. Yet his indictment of democratic life and culture is as pertinent as ever. How then, if it at all, might a refigured practice of philosophy play a central, vital role within a flourishing democratic culture? How does healthy democracy both depend on and inform philosophical education? Furthermore, how might philosophical research into apparently non-practical matters be of general relevance to the community? What benefits might tax-payers expect to flow from public support of philosophical research? In the light of comments made in last year’s federal election campaign about research funding for philosophy projects, a panel of philosophers address different aspects of these pressing questions.


Professor Paul Redding

Professor Paul Redding is ARC DORA Fellow in the department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He works on the continental idealist tradition in philosophy and its relation to contemporary movements in philosophy. He is the author of Hegel’s Hermeneutics (1996), the Logic of Affect (1999), Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought (2007) and Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche (2009).

Professor Richard Eldridge

Professor Richard Eldrige is the Charles and Harriett Cox McDowell Professor of Philosophy, at Swarthmore College, USA. He specialises in aesthetics and theory of criticism, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy and literature, German idealism and Wittgenstein. Recent publications include Stanley Cavell and Literary Studies: Consequences of Skepticism (Editor with Bernie Rhie, 2011), the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature (editor, 2009) and Literature, Life, and Modernity (2008)

Dr Dalia Nassar

Dr Dalia Nassar (participating chair) is an ARC DECRA Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Her areas of research include German romantic and idealist philosophy, history of the idea of nature, environmental philosophy, aesthetics, and theories of interpretation. She recently published The Romantic Absolute: Being and Knowing in Early German Romantic Philosophy 1795-1805 (2013) and is editor of The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy (2014).