What is the basis of morality?


Presumably … to say that happiness is the chief good seems a platitude, and a clearer account of what it is is still desired. This might perhaps be given, if we could first ascertain the function of man. For just as for a flute-player, a sculptor, or any artist, and, in general, for all things that have a function or activity; the good and the ‘well’ is thought to reside in the function, so would it seem to be for man, if he has a function. Have the carpenter, then, and the tanner certain functions or activities, and has man none? Is he born without a function? Or as eye, hand, foot, and in general each of the parts evidently has a function, may one lay it down that man similarly has a function apart from all these? What then can this be? Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox and every animal. There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle. (…) Now if the function of man is an activity of soul which follows or implies a rational principle, and if we say ‘a so-and-so’ and ‘a good so-and-so’ have a function which is the same in kind, e.g. a lyre-player and a good lyre-player, and so without qualification in all cases, eminence in respect of goodness being added to the name of the function (for the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre, and that of a good lyre-player is to do so well): if this is the case, human good turns out to be activity of the soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete.

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), Nicomachean Ethics, book I.



A metaphysic of morals is … indispensably necessary … because morals themselves are liable to all sorts of corruption, as long as we are without that clue and supreme canon by which to estimate them correctly. [A] For in order that an action should be morally good, it is not enough that it conform to the moral law, but it must also be done for the sake of the law, otherwise that conformity is only very contingent and uncertain. (…)

(…) Reason recognizes the establishment of a good will [striving to act according to the moral law] as its highest practical destination.

(…) The second proposition is: [B] That an action done from duty derives its moral worth, not from the purpose which is to be attained by it, but from the maxim by which it is determined, and therefore does not depend on the realization of the object of the action, but merely on the principle of volition by which the action has taken place, without regard to any object of desire. (…) The third proposition, which is a consequence of the two preceding, I would express thus: [C] Duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law.

( …) But what sort of law can that be, the conception of which must determine the will, even without paying any regard to the effect expected from it, in order that this will may be called good absolutely and without qualification? As I have deprived the will of every impulse which could arise to it from obedience to any law, there remains nothing but the universal conformity of its actions to law; in general, which alone is to serve the will as a principle, i.e. (I) I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law.

(…) The will is conceived as a faculty of determining oneself to action in accordance with the conception of certain laws. And such a faculty can be found only in rational beings. (…) Supposing, however, that there were something whose existence has in itself an absolute worth, something which, being an end in itself, could be a source of definite laws; then in this and this alone would lie the source of a possible categorical imperative, i.e., a practical law. Now I say: man and generally any rational being exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will, but in all his actions, whether they concern himself or other rational beings, must be always regarded at the same time as an end. (…) Accordingly the practical imperative will be as follows: (II) So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only.

(…) Looking back now on all previous attempts to discover the principle of morality, we need not wonder why they all failed. It was seen that man was bound to laws by duty, but it was not observed that the laws to which he is subject are only those of his own giving, though at the same time they are universal, and that he is only bound to act in conformity with his own will; a will, however, which is designed by nature to give universal laws. (…). I will therefore call this the principle of autonomy of the will, in contrast with every other which I accordingly reckon as heteronomy

The conception of the will of every rational being as one which must consider itself as giving in all the maxims of its will universal laws, so as to judge itself and its actions from this point of view- this conception leads to another which depends on it and is very fruitful, namely that of a kingdom of ends.

By a kingdom I understand the union of different rational beings in a system by common laws.

(…) Morality consists then in the reference of all action to the legislation which alone can render a kingdom of ends possible. This legislation must be capable of existing in every rational being and of emanating from his will, so that the principle of this will is (III) never to act on any maxim which could not without contradiction be also a universal law and, accordingly, always so to act that the will could at the same time regard itself as giving in its maxims universal laws.

(…) If the will seeks the law which is to determine it anywhere else than in the fitness of its maxims to be universal laws of its own dictation, consequently if it goes out of itself and seeks this law in the character of any of its objects, there always results heteronomy. The will in that case does not give itself the law, but it is given by the object through its relation to the will. This relation, whether it rests on inclination or on conceptions of reason, only admits of hypothetical imperatives: “I ought to do something because I wish for something else.” On the contrary, the moral, and therefore categorical, imperative says: “I ought to do so and so, even though I should not wish for anything else.”

(…) Here as elsewhere human reason in its pure use, so long as it was not critically examined, has first tried all possible wrong ways before it succeeded in finding the one true way.

All principles which can be taken from this point of view are either empirical or rational. The former, drawn from the principle of happiness, are built on physical or moral feelings; the latter, drawn from the principle of perfection, are built either on the rational conception of perfection as a possible effect, or on that of an independent perfection (the will of God) as the determining cause of our will.

Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. (1785. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott).



[The] niceties [of Kant about the basis of morality] are doubtless admirably adapted for the lecture-room … They can never be the cause of the impulse to act justly and to do good, which is found in every man ; as also they are powerless to counterbalance the deep-seated tendency to injustice and hardness of heart.

(…) How can that which affects another for good or bad become my immediate motive, and actually sometimes assume such importance that it more or less supplants my own interests, which are, as a rule, the single source of the incentives that appeal to me? (…) It is, what we see every day, the phenomenon of compassion [Mitleid]; in other words, the direct participation, independent of all ulterior considerations, in the sufferings of another, leading to sympathetic assistance in the effort to prevent or remove them; whereon in the last resort all satisfaction and all well-being and happiness depend. It is this compassion alone which is the real basis of all voluntary justice and all genuine loving-kindness. Only so far as an action springs therefrom, has it moral value.

Arthur Schopenhauer, On The Basis of Morality – Part III, Chapter V.


Each living unit is an entity radically different from all others. In my own self alone I have my true being; every- thing outside it belongs to the non-ego, and is foreign to me.” This is the creed to the truth of which flesh and bone bear witness: which is at the root of all egoism, and which finds its objective expression in every loveless, unjust, or malicious act.

[But as Kant himself suggests in Critique of Pure Reason]Individuation is merely an appearance, born of Space and Time; the latter being nothing else than the forms under which the external world necessarily manifests itself to me, conditioned as they are by my brain’s faculty of perception. Hence also the plurality and difference of individuals is but a phenomenon, that is, exists only as my mental picture. My true inmost being subsists in every living thing, just as really, as directly as in my own consciousness it is evidenced only to myself.” This is the higher knowledge: for which there is in Sanskrit the standing formula, tat tvam asi, ” that art thou.” Out of the depths of human nature it wells up in the shape of compassion, and is therefore the source of all genuine, that is, disinterested virtue, being, so to say, incarnate in every good deed. It is this which in the last resort is invoked, whenever we appeal to gentleness, to loving-kindness; whenever we pray for mercy instead of justice. For such appeal, such prayer is in reality the effort to remind a fellow-being of the ultimate truth that we are all one and the same entity.

Arthur Schopenhauer, On The Basis of Morality – Part IV, Chapter II.



Now it is plain to me, first of all, that in this theory the source of the concept ‘good’ has been sought and established in the wrong place. (…) It was ‘the good’ themselves, that is to say, the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established themselves and their actions as good, that is, of the first rank, in contradistinction to all the low, low-minded, common and plebeian. It was out of this pathos of distance that they first seized the right to create values and to coin names for values: what had they to do with utility! (…) The pathos of nobility and distance, as aforesaid, the protracted and domineering fundamental total feeling on the part of a higher ruling order in relation to a lower order to a ‘below’ – that is the origin of the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘bad’. (…) It follows from this origin that the word ‘good’ was definitely not linked from the first and by necessity to ‘unegoistic’ actions, as the superstition of these genealogists of morality would have it. Rather it was only when aristocratic value judgments declined that the whole antithesis ‘egoistic’ ‘unegoistic’ obtruded itself more and more on the human conscience -it is, to speak in my own language, the herd instinct that through this antithesis at last gets its word (and its words) in.

(…) That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no ground for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. (…) To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength. (…) When the oppressed, downtrodden, outraged exhort one another with the vengeful cunning of impotence: ‘let us be different from the evil, namely good! And he is good who does not outrage, who harms nobody, who does not attack, who does not requite, who leaves revenge to God, who keeps himself hidden as we do, who avoids evil and desires little from life, like us, the patient, humble, and just’ – this, listened to calmly and without previous bias, really amounts to no more than: ‘we weak ones are, after all, weak; it would be good if we did nothing for which we are not strong enough.’

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay.


Jürgen Habermas

On the one hand, we have the ethical abstinence of a post-metaphysical thinking, to which every universally obligatory concept of a good and exemplary life is foreign. On the other hand, we find in sacred scriptures and religious traditions intuitions about error and redemption, about the salvific exodus from a life that is experienced as empty of salvation; these have been elaborated in a subtle manner over the course of millennia and have been kept alive through a process of interpretation. This is why something can remain intact in the communal life of the religious fellowships—provided of course they avoid dogmatism and the coercion of people’s consciences—something that has been lost elsewhere and that cannot be restored by the professional knowledge of experts alone. I am referring to adequately differentiated possibilities of expression and to sensitivities with regard to lives that have gone astray, with regard to societal pathologies, with regard to the failure of individuals’ plans for their lives, and with regard to the deformation and disfigurement of the lives that people share with one another. The asymmetry of the epistemological claims allows us to affirm that philosophy must be ready to learn from theology, not only for functional reasons, but also (when we recall philosophy’s successful “Hegelian” learning processes) for substantial reasons. This is because the mutual compenetration of Christianity and Greek metaphysics not only produced the intellectual form of theological dogmatics and a hellenization of Christianity (which was not in every sense a blessing). It also promoted the assimilation by philosophy of genuinely Christian ideas. This work of assimilation has left its mark in normative conceptual clusters with a heavy weight of meaning, such as responsibility, autonomy, and justification; or history and remembering, new beginning, innovation, and return; or emancipation and fulfillment; or expropriation, internalization, and embodiment, individuality and fellowship. Philosophy has indeed transformed the original religious meaning of these terms, but without emptying them through a process of deflation and exhaustion. One such translation that salvages the substance of a term is the translation of the concept of “man in the image of God” into that of the identical dignity of all men that deserves unconditional respect. This goes beyond the borders of one particular religious fellowship and makes the substance of biblical concepts accessible to a general public that also includes those who have other faiths and those who have none.

Jürgen Habermas, The Dialectics of Secularization (2005).

Le Majlis philosophique de Doha (Archive)

Institut français du Qatar

Animé par Renaud Fabbri (Université de Versailles, SFS Qatar, contact : renaudfabbri@gmail.com)

Un café philosophique n’est pas un cours magistral mais une invitation à penser en commun. Il n’y a pas de sujets proprement philosophiques, mais une manière philosophique d’aborder des problèmes suffisamment importants pour qu’ils n’aient pas de solution.


Avant chaque rencontre, quelques textes de base ainsi quelques lectures optionnelles seront postés sur le site internet de l’Institut, comme une invitation à la méditation.

Au début de chaque rencontre, l’animateur introduira le sujet puis laissera la place à la discussion. Dans la deuxième partie de la rencontre, nous irons à la rencontre de quelques textes. Ils seront l’occasion de découvrir ou de redécouvrir un auteur classique ou contemporain ou un thème de la philosophie occidentale, islamique ou indienne.

L’animateur ou un autre participant sera chargé de proposer une synthèse finale. Vous ne sortirez jamais du café philosophique avec des réponses toutes prêtes mais avec de nouveaux éléments pour votre réflexion.

Sur la base du volontariat, les participants du café pourront eux-mêmes présenter sur un thème de leur choix après consultation avec l’animateur et en fonction des sujets de rencontre.


Ce calendrier est provisoire et partiel. Le contenu de chaque session sera reconfirmé sur le site internet de l’Institut. Les rencontres ont lieu le Samedi à l’Institut de 11h à 13h.

18 janvier 2014 : Décoloniser la philosophie. Sophie à l’ère de la mondialisation

15 février 2014 : Vivons-nous dans un monde désenchanté ? (Marcel Gauchet et de Jürgen Habermas)

15 mars 2014 : La science pense-t-elle ? (Science et Ontologie)

19 avril 2014 : Le Mal est-il toujours diabolique?

17 mai 2014 : L’avenir de l’utopie : y-a-t-il des révolutions réussies ?


Pour aller plus loin, vous êtes invités à consulter la médiathèque de l’Institut qui met à votre disposition un certain nombre d’ouvrages de philosophie. Il y a aussi des ressources en ligne pour les cyber-philosophes :

Philo magazine : http://www.philomag.com/

La vie des idées : http://www.laviedesidees.fr/

Contre point philosophique : http://www.contrepointphilosophique.ch/

Cours de philosophie de Simone Manon : http://www.philolog.fr/

Philosophies TV : http://philosophies.tv/

La rubrique « Idée » de France Culture : http://www.franceculture.fr/rubrique/idees

What is it to be wise? (readings)

The modern conception of philosophy

Wisdom … is no doubt too much to demand of human beings. But also not even the slightest degree of wisdom can be poured into a man by others; rather he must bring it forth from himself. The precept for reaching it contains three leading maxims: 1) Think for yourself, 2) think into the place of the other (in communication with human beings), 3) always think consistently with oneself.

Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view (1798).


Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment? (1784)


The Ancient conception of philosophy

From the preceding examples, we may get some idea of the change in perspective that may occur in our reading and interpretation of the philosophical works of antiquity when we consider them from the point of view of the practice of spiritual exercises. Philosophy then appears in its original aspect: not as a theoretical construct, but as a method for training people to live and to look at the world in a new way. It is an attempt to transform mankind. Contemporary historians of philosophy are today scarcely inclined to pay attention to this aspect, although it is an essential one. The reason for this is that, in conformity with a tradition inherited from the Middle Ages … they consider philosophy to be purely abstract-theoretical activity.

(…) With the advent of medieval Scholasticism … we find a clear distinction between theologia and philosophia. Theology became conscious of its autonomy qua supreme science, which philosophy was emptied of its spiritual exercises, which, from now on, were relegated to Christian mysticism and ethics. Reduced to the rank of a “handmaid of theology,” philosophy’s role was henceforth to furnish theology with conceptual—and hence purely theoretical—material. When, in the modern age, philosophy regained its autonomy, it still retained many features inherited from this medieval conception. In particular, it maintained its purely theoretical character, which even evolved in the direction of a more and more thorough systemization. Not until Nietzsche, Bergson, and existentialism does philosophy consciously return to being a concrete attitude, a way of life and of seeing the world.

Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (1995), p. 107


Socrates on philosophy as the practice of dying

SOCRATES: Never mind him, said Socrates. Now for you, my jury. I want to explain to you how it seems to me natural that a man who has really devoted his life to philosophy should be cheerful in the face of death, and confident of finding the greatest blessing in the next world when his life is finished. I will try to make clear to you, Simmias and Cebes, how this can be so.

Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward.

SIMMIAS: Simmias laughed and said, Upon my word, Socrates, you have made me laugh, though I was not at all in the mood for it. I am sure that if they heard what you said, most people would think–and our fellow countrymen would heartily agree–that it was a very good hit at the philosophers to say that they are half dead already, and that they, the normal people, are quite aware that death would serve the philosophers right.

SOCRATES: And they would be quite correct, Simmias–except in thinking that they are ‘quite aware.’ They are not at all aware in what sense true philosophers are half dead, or in what sense they deserve death, or what sort of death they deserve. But let us dismiss them and talk among ourselves. Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?

SIMMIAS: Most certainly, said Simmias, taking up the role of answering.

SOCRATES: Is it simply the release of the soul from the body? Is death nothing more or less than this, the separate condition of the body by itself when it is released from the soul, and the separate condition by itself of the soul when released from the body? Is death anything else than this?

SIMMIAS: No, just that.

SOCRATES: Well then, my boy, see whether you agree with me. I fancy that this will help us to find out the answer to our problem. Do you think that it is right for a philosopher to concern himself with the so-called pleasures connected with food and drink?

SIMMIAS: Certainly not, Socrates, said Simmias.

SOCRATES: What about sexual pleasures?

SIMMIAS: No, not at all.

SOCRAES: And what about the other attentions that we pay to our bodies? Do you think that a philosopher attaches any importance to them? I mean things like providing himself with smart clothes and shoes and other bodily ornaments; do you think that he values them or despises them–in so far as there is no real necessity for him to go in for that sort of thing?

SIMMIAS: I think the true philosopher despises them, he said.

SOCRATES: Then it is your opinion in general that a man of this kind is not concerned with the body, but keeps his attention directed as much as he can away from it and toward the soul?

SIMMIAS: Yes, it is.

SOCRATES: So it is clear first of all in the case of physical pleasures that the philosopher frees his soul from association with the body, so far as is possible, to a greater extent than other men?

SIMMIAS: It seems so.

SOCRATES: And most people think, do they not, Simmias, that a man who finds no pleasure and takes no part in these things does not deserve to live, and that anyone who thinks nothing of physical pleasures has one foot in the grave?

SIMMIAS: That is perfectly true

Plato, Phaedo 63e-65a.


The allegory of the cave

SOCRATES: And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! Human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.


SOCRATES: And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

GLAUCON: You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

SOCRATES: Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

GLAUCON: True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

SOCRATES: And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

GLAUCON: Yes, he said.

SOCRATES: And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

GLAUCON: Very true.

SOCRATES: And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

GLAUCON: No question, he replied.

SOCRATES: To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

GLAUCON: That is certain.

SOCRATES: And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it’ the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

GLAUCON: Far truer.

SOCRATES: And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

GLAUCON: True, he now

SOCRATES: And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

GLAUCON: Not all in a moment, he said.

SOCRATES: He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

GLAUCON: Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

SOCRATES: And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

GLAUCON: Certainly, he would.

SOCRATES: And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer: “Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?”

GLAUCON: Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

SOCRATES: Imagine once more, I said, such man coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

GLAUCON: To be sure, he said.

SOCRATES: And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

Plato, The Republic, Book VI.


Axial Age and Oriental Philosophy


An axis of world history, if such a thing exists, would have to be discovered empirically, as a fact capable of being accepted as such by all men, Christians included. This axis would be situated at the point in history which gave birth to everything which, since then, man has been able to be, the point most overwhelmingly fruitful in fashioning humanity. (…) It would seem that this axis of history is to be found around 500 B.C., in the spiritual process that occurred between 800 and 200 B.C. (…) The most extraordinary events are concentrated in this period. Confucius and Lao Tse were living China … India produced the Upanishads and Buddha … In Iran, Zarathustra taught … In Palestine, the prophets made their appearance … Greece witnessed the appearance of Homer, of the philosophers (Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato) of the tragedians, Thucydides and Archimedes.

Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (1949).


In Ancient India each department of learning was associated with a highly specialized skill and corresponding way of life. The knowledge was not to be culled from books primarily, or from lectures, discussions, and conversation, but to be mastered through apprenticeship to a competent teacher. It required the wholehearted surrender of a malleable pupil to the authority of the guru, its elementary prerequisites being obedience (śuśrūṣa) and implicit faith (śraddhā).

(…) As for the life and morals of the guru himself: it is required that there should be an identity—an absolute, point-for-point correspondence—between his teachings and his way of life; the sort of identity that we should expect to find in the West only in a monk or priest.

(…) Precisely in this way, Oriental philosophy is accompanied and supported by the practice of a way of life—monastic seclusion, asceticism, meditation, prayer, yoga-exercises, and daily devotional hours of worship.

(…) This Indian view of the identity of personality and conduct with teaching is well rendered in the apt comment of a Hindu friend of mine in criticism of a certain popular book on Oriental philosophy. “After all,” said he, “real attainment is only what finds confirmation in one’s own life. The worth of a man’s writing depends on the degree to which his life is itself an example of his teaching.”

Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India (1951).

Introduction to Ancient and Modern Western Thought

Days: Tuesday from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Language: English
Taught by: Dr. Renaud Fabbri
​University: Georgetown University in Qatar

Course Description:

The course provides a general introduction to some of the great tracks of western philosophy including epistemology, ethical philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of history and metaphysics. The course is based on the reading of excerpts from authors such as Plato, Kant and Nietzsche. No prior knowledge of philosophy is required, only the ability to read carefully and attentively.

Course Goals & Objectives

According to René Descartes, “to live without philosophizing is in truth the same as keeping the eyes closed without attempting to open them.” The course has been designed to offer more than a simple history of ideas. Its goal is also to initiate students to the transformative and practical dimension of philosophy – a dimension that was very clear to the founders of Western Philosophy but that has a tendency to fall into obscurity in today’s times.

Desired Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will have familiarized themselves with great names and major philosophical theories and controversies. Most importantly they will realize that in and of itself, the practice of philosophy does not bring about definitive answers, rather more questions about who we are and the reality we live in.

Weekly schedule of topics/materials to be covered

Each week, students are assigned short but challenging excerpts from major philosophical texts (on average 10 pages per week).

Week 1: What is it to be wise? (full readings, video)

In this introductory class, we work to define the practice of philosophizing, emphasizing the difference between the modern and the classical conceptions of wisdom.

Plato, The Republic

Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?

Week 2: What is the basis of morality? (full readings)

We intuitively think we know what is right and what is wrong. But what is the basis of this knowledge? Is it possible to provide a rational basis for morality? On the contrary, do feelings such as empathy teach us more about the ground of morality? Or is morality only a delusion, a mask for our will to power?

Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Arthur Schopenhauer, On The Basis of Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Week 3: Is evil always diabolical? (full readings and video)

In Christianity, Islam or Judaism, the origin of evil is generally traced back a satanic figure and to a revolt of man against God. In this class we analyze the evolution of the reflection on evil from Plato to the modern experience with genocide and the human, too human “banality of evil.”

Plato, Meno

Augustine, The City of God

Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind

Week 4: Can we demonstrate the existence of God? (full readings)

This class discusses the different types of philosophical demonstration of the existence of God and the criticism that have been addressed to them.

René Descartes, Meditations

Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.


Week 5: What can we know? (full readings)

What are the limits of human knowledge? Is it true that our knowledge is limited to sense perception? What does it mean to say that we know ourselves?

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Schopenhauer, The World As Will and as Representation


Week 6: Is there a meaning to history? (full readings)

With the American and French Revolutions, a new concept of political revolution emerged, thus creating the philosophical problem of an “end to history” but also a political mythology responsible for some of the worst catastrophes of the 20th century. In this last course, we deconstruct the modern philosophy of history, showing both its historical and religious roots.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Kant, Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical reflections

For more informations: http://qatar.sfs.georgetown.edu/about/community-partnerships/community-classes-fall-2015#Introduction%20to%20Ancient%20and%20Modern%20Western%20Thought

Introduction to Modern Western Esotericism (PHI 251)


Esotericism is an attractive topic but its study is usually made difficult by prejudices (either pro or against it). The course has been designed to offer a balanced approach, proposing both insider and outsider/academic perspectives. The course will focus on Modern Western Esotericism (MWE) from the perennial philosophy of the Renaissance to the New Age. Its purpose is to prepare the student for more advanced material by introducing major currents as well as topics.

Antoine Faivre’s A Concise History of Western Esotericism as well as Wouter J. Hanegraaff’s Western Esotericism: A Guide to the Perplexed as manuals for the course.


This course is divided into ten, one-hour sessions.

Session 1 | Esotericism as a reality and as an object of study

Session 2 | Perennial philosophy, the esoteric tradition ad esoteric ecumenism

Session 3 | Initiation and symbolism: the language of inner transformation

Session 4 | French Masonic Illuminism

Session 5 | Gnosis, Gnosticism and Metaphysical realization

Session 6 | Sacred Feminine and Goddess Spirituality

Session 7 | Esotericism and the modern world

Session 8 | Esotericism, Gnosticism and the roots of totalitarianism (I)

Session 9 | Esotericism, Gnosticism and the roots of totalitarianism (II) – Remarks about the New Age movement

Session 10 | Esotericism outside of the West


At the end of the course, students will be able to…

  • By the end of the course, the students will be familiar with the major currents and figures of MWE.
  • The students will be able to distinguish between esotericism and other forms of discourses and practices (Hermeticism, Theosophy, Gnosis, Gnosticism, Occultism, New Age etc.)
  • The students will become familiar with different academic approaches to MWE.
  • The students will discover the impact of the esoteric discourse on the larger/main-stream culture.


Renaud Fabbri, Ph.D. – Maitrise (M.A.) in Philosophy [Summa Cum Laude] Paris IV, la Sorbonne, France 2004. Doctorat (Ph.D.) in Political Science [Summa Cum Laude with the special mention from the Board of Examiners] University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France 2012. Currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of World Religions (Harvard Divinity School).

– See more at: http://www.uprs.edu/undergraduate-academics/undergraduate-courses/introduction-to-modern-western-esotericism-phi-251/#sthash.cvu3mLm1.dpuf