The University of Bucharest is pleased and honored to welcome Professor Daniel Garber as a new honorary member of the academic community.
Daniel Garber is Stuart Professor of Philosophy at the University of Princeton and Chair of the Philosophy Department. Before moving to Princeton in 2002, Professor Garber had a distinguished career of more than 20 years at the University of Chicago, where he also held a professorial chair and was the leading force that made the University of Chicago’s Department of Philosophy one of the most renowned departments in the study of early modern philosophy in the United States. In the past years, our distinguished honorary member also functioned as invited professor in prestigious universities around the globe. For instance he was invited professor at the École Normale Supérieure, in Lyon, in 2002; he also gave the prestigious Isaiah Berlin Lectures at the University of Oxford, in 2004. In all these and other places, Daniel Garber was actively engaged in the collaboration and in bridging the gaps between departments (and fields) of philosophy and history and sometimes between philosophy of science and history of philosophy. Our distinguished guest upon whom we are proud to bestow today the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Bucharest was extremely successful in the creation of what was essentially a new discipline: the early modern studies. Allow me that in the name our faculty and those colleagues who work in this field and are disciples of professor Daniel Garber I give a short contextual assessment of his merits as one of the founding fathers of the early modern studies.
More than 35 years ago, Daniel Garber made an interesting and bold move. After finishing a highly successful and appreciated PhD at Harvard University on the theory of justification under the supervision of Hilary Putnam, he moved into the very different field of history of philosophy and embarked upon a long and successful career in early modern philosophy. Such a move is not common for a post-doc of today, and it was even less common 35 years ago, when these two fields were wide apart and when some distinguished members of the Faculty of Philosophy in Princeton were reported to post signs on their door saying “Just say NO to the history of philosophy!”1 It was however a lucky move for us all because it meant not only the beginning of our distinguished honorary member’s career, but also a profound and long term impact on the field of the history of philosophy itself – in many ways this marked the beginning of the filed known as early modern studies. In order to make this claim explicit, it is worthwhile to give a very brief excursion into the past and recall how the ‘historical’ field looked like back in the 1970s, as seen from the perspective of the ‘anaytical’ school. Disregarding many fine details, we can think of the history of philosophy in the 1970s as a field of ‘big pictures’ and major divides. There was a ‘big picture’ of Descartes, the metaphysician and the beginner of a modern era; someone to be the subject of a polite curtsy in the beginning of any course on ‘modern philosophy’ before moving to more interesting subjects such as Leibniz’ ‘monads’ or Kant’s ‘synthetic a priori.’ There was a corresponding ‘big picture’ of Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke in the somewhat parallel but totally unrelated field of history of science. The two fields were in many ways applying the same methods that, roughly speaking, amounted to a crude version of ‘rational reconstruction.’ History of science, recently reshaped by the unexpected encounter with the post-Kuhnian philosophers, was working hard in the service of a very limited number of questions formulated 20 (and sometimes even 40) years before by the philosophers of science. History of philosophy was equally struggling to fulfill its role of a handmaid of “serious”, systematic philosophy. And then, there were the divides: continental history of philosophy and the French Descartes looked bewilderingly different from the ‘Descartes’ taught in the graduate schools of the Anglo-American tradition. Geographical divide was however less annoying for the student than the disciplinary divide. There is no better way to grasp the depth of the disciplinary gap than to visit some of the great libraries: in Oxford, Bodelian library still keeps seventeenth-century philosophers apart: The works of Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke or Isaac Newton are stored in the Radcliffe Science Library, since they are regarded as the founders of modern science, whereas those of Descartes, Leibniz and Locke are held in the philosophy library, several blocks down the road, more than 20 minutes of walk for a fit and enthusiastic reader.
In addition to disciplinary and geographical divide, there was a great deal of parochialism, too: there was a sense in which Francis Bacon was ‘English’ and Descartes was ‘French,’ meaning mainly that one had to have some essential national affinity with one’s subject of study before daring to engage with any of the ‘titans’ of early modern thought. There was, also, the obsession with great figures and towering names in history of philosophy: something that made the study of Descartes, Leibniz or Kant ‘respectable’ and the study of Pascal, Pierre Bayle or La Mottle Le Vayier philosophically dubious.
During the past 35 years, some of these received images have imploded or became no more than simple pastiches of “how NOT to proceed” in the history of philosophy. Some of the gaps are less wide now, and our distinguished guest contributed substantially towards the bridging of them. Daniel Garber has often described himself as an ‘antiquarian,’ as someone who merely loves history. There is more than one way one can interpret this self-description. One can view Daniel Garber’s activity during the past 30 years as gently subverting and elegantly blowing-up received images and canonic pictures. He began with Descartes. His book, Descartes’ Metaphysical Physics (Chicago: 1992) has taught us something that has now become so widely accepted that it counts as evident: that in order to understand Descartes’ project and Descartes’ contributions to modernity, one has to begin with Descartes’ questions which were, rather often, physical questions. This means not only that Descartes was an imaginative physicist and a skilled mathematician, not even that in order to know Descartes one has to read with equal attention and care all his works (although even that was sometimes, in some places of the academic world, in the 1980s, a great achievement), but something more profound and more philosophical, namely that if one works with contemporary disciplinary divides, one is in danger of missing the point of what an early modern philosopher wanted to prove. The lesson is, in other words, that one has to pay attention to problems and questions, to the precise language and to the context they were formulated; to the methods and tools available of the time for problem-solving in general and for solving these particular problems in particular. This is one sense in which Daniel Garber describes himself as an antiquarian: and it is subversive to the extent it blows up the commonly received aged-old disciplinary boundaries between natural philosophy and metaphysics, between ‘science’ and ‘philosophy.’ The result is not only a better integrated picture of one philosopher; it is an increased understanding of a subject, of a question. The result is frequently the discovery of new and unexpected questions. Daniel Garber gave new and unexpected questions to at least two generations of students. Some of these students will meet next June in the bi-annual conference of HOPOS, in Halifax, Canada, to do what is still highly unusual in the profession: organize a special session on Dan Garber’s book on Descartes: Descartes’ Metaphysical Physics: 20 years young will include both renowned and young students in the field of Cartesian studies, a field that was radically re-shaped by our distinguished guest and honorary member. It is due to a very limited number of people, and Dan Garber is one of them, that today we don’t have integrated big pictures of the historical formation of disciplines (like metaphysics) or big pictures of philosophers such as Descartes and Leibniz; instead, we have interesting questions and more tools to solve them than were available forty or even twenty years ago. The student of early modern studies is not only reading the grand published treatises but knows all too well that in order to find and solve problems one has to dive in and explore the archives, burry himself or herself in manuscript and rare book reading rooms digging into the manuscripts, paying attention to the philosophical correspondence, to intellectual interactions between the great and (sometimes) the less prominent minds of the past. A quick glance of what has been going on in the profession in the past 30 years shows clearly an increasing interest in the ways ideas were shaped in the early modern period. Most of the early modern philosophers got new editions; editions containing archival material never published before, editions paying a lot of interest to philosophical correspondence and to the intellectual contexts in which ideas and philosophical programs were shaped. And if one looks closer enough to such projects, one will eventually found that Daniel Garber had a hand in most of them: take for instance the many volumes project Descartes in England or the prestigious Yale Leibniz edition. This is the second sense in which one can interpret Daniel Garber to be an antiquarian; he has taught us to go back to the text and read it carefully before starting philosophizing about it, even if, or especially when the text is a forgotten early modern edition or a newly discovered manuscript. He has taught us a new attitude towards research too: because in order to go to the text one has to travel, one has to establish personal contacts, one has to collaborate. And in this, our distinguished guest is in many ways unsurpassable. Daniel Garber is the Scholar on the Move. He has traveled and taught everywhere: from Princeton to Oxford, from China to Brazil, from Hanover to Sydney and from Jerusalem to Bucharest. And somehow all this traveling has been extremely fruitful and productive: it sprang new projects and sometimes new institutions. Daniel Garber’s favorite institution, the one he seems to be most fond of creating and maintaining with great enthusiasm is the seminar in early modern philosophy. Look at any program of events in early modern philosophy and you will see them: Midwest seminar in early modern philosophy, Mid-Atlantic seminar in early modern philosophy, New England colloquium in early modern philosophy, Scottish seminar in early modern philosophy, North-Sea seminar in early modern philosophy, South-East Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy (held at Istanbul), Artic Circle Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy (held at 70 degrees latitude North, beyond the Arctic Circle, in Kilipisjierwi, Findland). And, of course, the Bucharest-Princeton seminar in early modern philosophy, a yearly event that is celebrating this summer its 12th anniversary. All these are Dan Garber’s creation – either through a direct intervention, or just springing from the seeds he has sown in the past through his works, seminars, lectures, sermons and generally contagious enthusiasm.
I hope that this brief and incomplete look at our distinguished guest’s academic activity is more than enough to convince everyone that the University of Bucharest would be lucky indeed to have Daniel Garber as an honorary member amongst its distinguished professorial corpus. But this is not all. In the name of the Faculty of Philosophy, but also on behalf of many of our colleagues affiliated with other departments of the University of Bucharest, I should also acknowledge the role that Daniel Garber played in the past 12 years in the development of important institutions within the University of Bucharest itself. Daniel Garber visited Romania for the first time in 2001 at the invitation of our distinguished colleague, Vlad Alexandrescu from the French Department, director of the Research center Foundations of Early Modern Thought. On that occasion, Daniel Garber contributed substantially to the sowing of a seed; a seed that he had carefully watered in his subsequent yearly visits when the seminar in early modern philosophy was somehow itinerant, moving from Tescani to Arad and then to Bran in order to become, in 2003, the yearly seminar of the Research center Foundations of Early Modern Thought and to take its official name: Princeton-Bucharest Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy. Daniel Garber was not only the inspirational figure behind the seminar: he was the active and indefatigable organizer, fund-raiser and promoter of this institution. He was a founding member and a constant promoter of the Research Center Foundations of Early Modern Thought and a constant collaborator in various research projects initiated by Vlad Alexandrescu and Dana Jalobeanu. From 2007, this collaboration extended to another research center of the University of Bucharest, the Center for Logic, History and Philosophy of Science, at the Faculty of Philosophy. Since 2007, Daniel Garber came at least once a year to Bucharest to take part in the various activities organized by Dana Jalobeanu at the Faculty of Philosophy: The Bucharest colloquium in early modern science, the Graduate Bucharest Conference of Early Modern Philosophy or simply seminars and lectures organized for the benefit of our graduate students. It is most fitting to finish the long list of Garber’s contributions to the establishment of the field of early modern studies in Romania with announcing his most recent involvement in the creation of a brand new institution related to the University of Bucharest: Daniel Garber has accepted to be a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Early Modern Studies, the most recent enterprise of the Research Center Foundations of Early Modern Thought.
In view of all this, the Faculty of Philosophy acknowledges that by bestowing the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa upon professor Daniel Garber, the University of Bucharest will not only become richer by gaining an outstanding and prestigious member of the international academic community while also furthering its research connections with Princeton University, but also will give official and well deserved recognition to the already existing important and longstanding ties and collaboration between the professorial corpus of the University of Bucharest and professor Daniel Garber, now one of its most distinguished honorary members.
Bucharest, 20 March 2012
Faculty of Philosophy
University of Bucharest
1 Tom Sorrell, “Introduction,” in Tom Sorrell and G.A.J.Rogers, Analytic philosophy versus history of philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2005.
Let me begin by saying that I am deeply humbled to be receiving this honorary degree today. Being honored in this way by the University of Bucharest means a great deal to me.
My first contacts with the Romanian philosophical community were sometime early in 2001, when I was contacted by a small group of young researchers from the New Europe College, including Vlad Alexandrescu and Dana Jalobeanu. They invited me to participate in a summer school in the history of philosophy that they were organizing in Tescani. I knew no one in the group, and I had never been to Romania, but I was very curious about the group, and did not hesitate to accept the invitation. That was the beginning of a long and rewarding relationship. I had a wonderful week in Tescani, and met many wonderful scholars and students. I have come back almost every summer after that as the summer seminar has grown and developed, moved from place to place. It is now firmly connected to the University of Bucharest. This summer seminar has been my anchor in Romania, but it has also brought me to Bucharest twice or three times during other parts of the year to participate in conferences and seminars here at this University. Over the years I have been very pleased to see the scholars with whom I have worked grow to become distinguished senior scholars, to see their students grow and develop and become distinguished scholars in their own right, and to see the conferences and workshops that they organize here in Romania become among the most important scholarly meetings in the discipline. I am very proud that I have had some small part in helping this to happen.
Let me turn now to the kind of work that we do together. The projects that I have been involved with for the bulk of my career, and for the last dozen years in collaboration with my Romanian colleagues concern the history of philosophy. My own work has been largely in the relations between philosophy and science in the period of the scientific revolution, what might be called the “long” seventeenth century: from the late sixteenth century up until the early part of the eighteenth century. This is an interest that I have in common with many members of the group with which I work here at the University of Bucharest. The figures I have worked on include Descartes, Leibniz, Hobbes, Spinoza, Galileo, Mersenne, in the past I have worked on Berkeley and Locke, more recently I find myself drawn more and more into working on Bacon. The kinds of issues that attract me include conceptions of the natural world, the relation between traditional philosophical concerns and what we call scientific concerns, conceptions of mind and their relations to body, laws of nature and their grounds. More recently I have been interested in politics and in the connection between conceptions of religion and politics in figures like Hobbes and Spinoza.
Why do I find these questions interesting? Why do I try to convince others to undertake similar studies? In a certain way I am a kind of intellectual tourist, I think. I love going to other times and other places, and looking at other ways of looking at the world. The history of philosophy and history of science allows me to do this without leaving the comfort of my study. Take Galileo, for example. In some ways his world is the rather familiar Copernican world we now hold. But it is tremendously exciting to look into the telescope with him for the first time and see something no one else had seen: the mountains on the moon, the moons around Jupiter, the phases of Venus. It is also very exciting to discover with him something that no one thought could be done: apply mathematics to falling bodies and find the exact proportion between time and distance fallen. And give a demonstration of the relation. Or with Descartes, it is very exciting to see the world as a collection of tiny machines, clocks and balances and levers and pulleys everywhere, bringing about the things we see on the surface of things by way of hidden mechanisms.
This is lovely fun, but why should anyone want to do it? Let me make a case for it. There are many ways in which you could do the history of philosophy. Many historians of philosophy see themselves as contributing directly to contemporary philosophy. They see themselves as attempting to revive forgotten arguments from historical figures, and reinserting them into the contemporary philosophical discussion. But this is not the kind of history of philosophy that interests me. I certainly don’t want to deny that the history of philosophy is important as a source of arguments and positions, either for us to adopt, or for us to consider and reject, as the philosophical historian of philosophy insists. The arguments and positions of past philosophers may indeed resonate with current concerns, and may in a very direct way enter into debates of current concern, particularly in ethics and political philosophy. But in order to mine the past for arguments and positions of contemporary interest, as the philosophical historian of philosophy wants to do, we must read the history of philosophy through our own philosophical categories. We must also ignore the particular social and political circumstances that accompany past thought: they are not of interest to the philosophical historian of philosophy who seeks the eternal and timeless wisdom of past thinkers.
My own kind of history of philosophy, and that which I share with my Romanian colleagues, is a kind of contextual history of philosophy, what might be called an antiquarian history of philosophy. There is much anxiety about where philosophy is going now, what we are supposed to be doing as philosophers. Times like this inevitably raise the question about what philosophy is and what its future may be. The antiquarian history of philosophy can help us to appreciate the fact that the very conception of philosophy has changed and evolved over time, and thus free ourselves from a confining essentialism with respect to the very concept of philosophy itself.
It is often taken for granted that the discipline of philosophy that we practice today is substantially the same as it was in past times. It is this assumption that underlies the way philosophers have generally used the history of philosophy as a source of arguments and problems for their current work. But it is precisely the contrary conception of philosophy that underlies the antiquarian history of philosophy, and provides an alternative conception of the discipline. Problems of skepticism in the theory of knowledge are now taken to be abstract philosophical problems, of no interest to the actual construction of knowledge. But in the period in which I work, they are expressions of the anxiety about being able to figure out just what the world is really like: they are challenges to the very enterprise of science. To take another case, when Descartes sets out his Meditations, he is not interested in some narrowly philosophical questions about mind, body and God: he is laying the foundations for a mathematical physics. More generally, what we now think of as physics and biology were firmly and centrally part of the conception of what philosophy was supposed to be doing at one time.
Realizing how the very concept of philosophy has changed over the years can help us free ourselves from the tyranny of the present, essentialism with respect to the notion of philosophy itself, the idea that there is some such thing as what philosophy is, and it is this, and what departs from it is not philosophy. In this way it can free us as philosophers to think new thoughts in a way in which it is more difficult if we are bound into one conception of what our subject is. My point is not that the history of philosophy (at least in the way in which it is practiced now) will have some direct bearing on the solution of this or that particular problem. Nor do I think that the history of philosophy will tell us what direction we should be going in as philosophers. It is rather that by being generally educated in history of philosophy we will take a different attitude toward our studies and be better philosophers for it. (I also think that this is true for the history of science with respect to scientific practice as well, but that is another story….)
But this only raises a larger question. I have tried to justify the kind of work that I do in philosophy by putting it into a larger philosophical context, and showing how the kind of work I do (and many of us in this room do as well) fits into the larger philosophical enterprise. But, one might ask, why study philosophy? Why is the larger philosophical enterprise worth pursuing?
Here I would like to say a few words in defense of the Humanities. In many countries and at many universities there are intense debates about the purpose of higher education, particularly when it involves public funds. There is a growing trend all over the world to see the universities primarily as preparation for gainful employment and the research conducted there as directed at science, technology and medicine, and the support of government and industry. In such a conception of the university, there is little place for philosophy, not to mention literature, history, or any of the other traditional humanistic liberal arts. There is no doubt that the support of business, technology and medicine are important functions of universities. But I would also like to stand up for the liberal arts as well.
In these trying times, it isn’t easy to advocate resources for the humanities, which seem like luxuries in comparison with more utilitarian subjects like medicine and engineering. But in these times it is especially important to remind ourselves that self-understanding is important too. It is important to feed and clothe ourselves, and to keep our bodies healthy. But if we lose our culture, our history, our ability to ask the big questions and contemplate the big answers, then we have lost something important to us, something distinctly human that separates us from the animals and from the computers that are increasingly taking over our lives. It is important for us as humanistic scholars to remember this, and to remind our university colleagues and fellow citizens of these truths.
But enough of my sermon. I would like to end by again thanking you, the academic leaders of the University of Bucharest for this great honor that you have bestowed upon me.