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Regular version of the site

'It Would Be Wonderful If Some of the Leading Historians of Philosophy of the Next Generation Were Russians’

Professor Peter Anstey from the University of Sydney held a series of seminars on research methods in the humanities and early modern philosophy at HSE Moscow last week. The seminars were connected to his project ‘The Nature and Status of Principles in Early Modern Philosophy’. How have the studies of philosophy evolved? What is the role of philosophy of the modern world? How can Russian students become involved in global research projects? These were some of the issues Peter Anstey talked about with HSE News Service.

— What is the connection between you and HSE Moscow? How did your cooperation start?

— I met Drs Drozdova and Dr Stefan Heßbrüggen who is Assistant Professor at the HSE School of Philosophy at a conference in Belgium in 2014 where we discussed our mutual interest in early modern experimental philosophy. Once they learned of my plans for 2016 to visit the new Institute for Research in the Humanities at Bucharest University, the conversation started about a possible visit to the HSE in Moscow.

— How do you feel communicating with students for whom English is not a native language? 

— After nearly four months in Romania, I now feel comfortable dealing with students who are not entirely fluent in English. I must say, however, that the level of English amongst the graduate students whom I have encountered at HSE has been surprisingly high and in most cases is easily adequate for advanced research with Anglophone sources and scholars.

— Is there a difference between Moscow students and your usual crowd?

— The students with whom I have interacted at HSE have been engaging, well taught and overall are very impressive. I would encourage them to spend time on their research abroad, even if for short periods. It is so important to interact with other intellectual communities and to broaden one’s base of philosophical influences. Australian and New Zealand philosophy departments often encourage their best undergraduate students to do graduate studies elsewhere. Thus, even though we have a large graduate program at Sydney University, many of our students have come to us from other universities in the region or from Asia or North America and many of our own go elsewhere.

Early modern philosophy is a field in which we need the unique perspectives and skillsets that Russian graduates have to contribute

— What could be your message to young people to encourage and stimulate them to do research in humanities?

— Speaking for my own field, early modern philosophy has made enormous strides over the last 30 years. It is now a very mature discipline in terms of its methodology and the quality of the work being produced. It is increasingly multi-lingual, interdisciplinary and global in its scholarly networks. It is also a field that will be deeply impacted by the digital humanities in the future. All this is to say that it is a field in which we need the unique perspectives and skillsets that Russian graduates have to contribute. It would be wonderful if some of the leading historians of philosophy of the next generation were Russians.

— What are the current trends  in global research of philosophy? Are young people interested in that area more or less now? Are our so rapidly changing times good for deep philosophical studies?

— My sense is that Anglophone philosophy is undergoing a period of healthy self-examination as it comes to terms with issues such as the under-representation of women in the discipline and the importance on non-Western traditions, especially Chinese philosophy. However, these developments do not change the fact that philosophers are needed now more than ever in this era dominated by social media. They have roles to play in the academy and in society at large that can be filled by no one else: not journalists, not politicians, not writers or poets.

In Australia, we have, historically, had a fairly anti-intellectual culture in which philosophers are not public figures (even though we have produced many good philosophers). This has often led to poverty of public debate where the real terms of reference for dealing with an issue of public policy or morality are not clearly laid out. I’m not an advocate of Plato’s vision in The Republic; however, philosophers are essential to the health of the public sphere. And historians of philosophy have a role there too. Young people will not be aware of this if we philosophers are invisible.

Philosophers are needed now more than ever in this era dominated by social media. They have roles to play in the academy and in society at large that can be filled by no one else: not journalists, not politicians, not writers or poets

— Are there any special research plans while being in Moscow, like visiting some archives, libraries, museums?

— I find that some of my aesthetic interests arise out of my research and a case in point is two-point perspective painting. One of the masters of this technique was the eighteenth-century Italian painter Canaletto and I’ll make sure that I see the Canaletto in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts while I’m here.

The Russian State Library has some interesting holdings in early French and Latin translations of John Locke’s major philosophical works and, should I be lucky enough to return to Moscow, I’d like to examine these editions to see what we can learn from them.

— What are your research plans?

— I am in the final stages completing a monograph entitled Experimental Philosophy and the Origins of Empiricism with my co-author Dr Alberto Vanzo. It will be the first ever history of early modern experimental philosophy and we are very excited about it.

One minor project that I’ve also been working on is an analysis and evaluation of a hitherto unknown Locke manuscript that has come to light in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. It’s a huge medical notebook, over 1000 pages, and provides interesting new insights into Locke’s intellectual development.

My main research focus, however, is the project on ‘The nature and status of principles in early modern philosophy’ about which I have been speaking here at the HSE. Various papers relating to this project as well as an edited collection are all in different stages of completion. Some of this material has been presented to the students here and I hope that it will prove a stimulus to them to go on with research careers in the field.

Professor Peter Anstey is the ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He specialises in early modern philosophy, particularly the philosophy of John Locke. His research interests include philosophy of religion, ancient philosophy and ethics. Peter Anstey is the author of John Locke and Natural Philosophy (Oxford, 2011) and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 2013).

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service 

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