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The Great War and Modern Philosophy

Final Report Summary - GRAPH (The Great War and Modern Philosophy)

The First World War is commonly referred to as the original catastrophe of the 20th-century. It was also, as this project investigated, an original catastrophe for European philosophy in many senses of the term “catastrophe”: as ending, transformation, and new beginning. Although the impact of the war on literature, the visual arts and music, culture, and society have long been a theme of investigation, the impact of the war on philosophical thought has never been the object of a systematic and wide-ranging investigation. The aim of this project was to investigate how the war impacted philosophy in the national contexts of Germany, France, England. This investigation was developed along four broad lines of questioning:

How did philosophical discourse become mobilized during the war?
How did the war provoke a crisis in the languages of philosophy?
How did the war incite the formation to two new philosophical concepts, openness and otherness?
How did the philosophical idea of Europe change in light of the war?

In other to tackle these questions, novel methods of investigation were developed which combined philosophical analysis of arguments and texts, historical contextualization of ideas, political and social determinations, and cross-over between philosophical, literary, and ideological texts. Through each of these four lines of inquiry, a basic argument of his project was to understand how philosophy became itself an instrument of war much as war became an occasion to reflect philosophically. In so doing, this project explored the complex and shifting distinctions between philosophy and ideology, argument and rhetoric, politics and culture, and the personal and the professional in the context of the First World War.

In addition to recognized figures of philosophy – Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, etc. – lesser known figures were also investigated – Rudolf Eucken, Gustav Landauer, Dietrich Mahnke – as well as literary figures such as Proust, Rolland, and Hofmannsthal.

The project placed great emphasis on exploring and expanding the accessibility and dissemination of scholarly research. Towards this end, in addition to publications and conferences, the GRAPH project produced an unique MOOC on this topic, established an on-line web-blog, organized a public exhibition of primary source materials at the Central Library of KU Leuven, and published (in bi-lingual edition) primary source materials.

This historical and philosophical angle was supplemented and enhanced with an emphasis on the contemporary relevance of the First World War for Europe today. A centerpiece of the GRAPH project consisted, in this regard, in understanding how the war transformed the Idea of Europe. This contemporary relevance of the First World War was developed in an original manner with the production of a documentary film on the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka, which was first screened at the Czech Embassy in Brussels in a conference jointly organized by the Embassy, the GRAPH PI, and Czech studies center at the University of Brussels. This unique documentary (with ERC aknowledgement) has since been screened at the University of Chicago and the University of Warsaw, and will soon be available on-line in a final edited format. The final Voice-Overs for the film are currently in production. This film was conceived, produced, and edited by the PI.

Although the GRAPH project did not reach its full term of completion, much of its research output will appear in the coming years, including at least two monographs, three PhDs, numerous articles, and future conference papers.