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

Corbin on the radical difference between Mulla Sadra and existentialism

“Elsewhere, in editing and translating one of his books (the Kitab al-Masha’ir, I have sketched the radical difference separating Mullâ Sadrâ’s metaphysic of existence from what has in our day taken the name “existentialism.” For Mulla Sadrâ the degree of existentiality is seen in terms of Presence, which does not mean in terms of being present to this world, the supreme finality of which would be to im­merse being in “being for death.” For him a being is present to itself just in so far as it is separated from, and triumphs over the conditions of this world, which is subject to extension, to volume, to duration and to distance. The more it is separated from this world, the more it is separated from what conditions absence, occultation, darkness, unconsciousness, the more it is also freed from “being for death.” The more intense the degree of Presence, the more intense also the act of existing, and so also from that point does this existence exist for “beyond death.” Being, as Presence, is not a presence ever more and more involved in this world because it has shut itself off from access to the hierarchy of worlds; it is a presence to all worlds beyond death. The whole of Mulla Sadrâ’s philosophy of the resurrection makes this fundamental intuition explicit.”

Henry Corbin, “The Force of Traditional Philosophy in Iran Today”, Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 2, No.1.

Kundalini Yoga

(1) Only joined with Power has the God power to rule, otherwise He cannot even quiver-and so You are worthy of adoration by Hari, Hara, Virinci, and all the rest, and so how dare I who’ve done nothing meritorious reverence and praise You?

You, O wave of consciousness and bliss (9) You pierce earth in the muladhara cakra, water in the manipura cakra, fire in the svadhistana cakra, wind in the anahata cakra and the ether above that, and mind in the cakra between the brows; thus You pierce the entire kula path and then take pleasure with Your Lord in the secrecy of the thousand-petaled lotus. (10) You sprinkle the evolved world with a stream of nectar flowing from beneath Your feet, and from the resplendent abundance of the nectar moon You descend to Your own place, making Yourself a serpent of three and a half coils, and there You sleep again in the cave deep within the foundation.

Sundarya Lahari, attributed to Shankara (trans. Francis Clooney)

“Fifteen Verses of Wisdom”

1. The brilliance of the One Being’s light does not vanish in external light or in darkness because all light and darkness resides in the supreme light of God Consciousness.
2. This Being is called Lord Siva. He is the nature and existence of all beings. The external objective world is the expansion of His Energy and it is filled with the glamour of the glory of God Consciousness.
3. Siva and Sakti are not aware that they are separate. They are interconnected just as fire is one with heat.
4. He is the God Bhairava. He creates, protects, destroys, conceals, and reveals His nature through the cycle of this world. This whole universe is created by God in His own nature, just as one finds the reflection of the world in a mirror.
5. The collective state of the universe is His supreme Energy (sakti), which He created in order to recognize His own nature. This Sakti, who is the embodiment of the collective state of the universe, loves possessing the state of God Consciousness. She is in the state of ignorance, remaining perfectly complete and full in each and every object.
6. The supreme Lord Siva, who is all-pervasive and fond of playing and falling, together with the Energy of His own nature simultaneously brings about the varieties of creation and destruction.
7. This supreme action cannot be accomplished by any other power in this universe except Lord Siva, who is completely independent, perfectly glorious and intelligent.
8. The limited state of consciousness is insentient and cannot simultaneously expand itself to become the var- ious forms of the universe. The possessor of independence is absolutely different from that insentient state of consciousness. You cannot, therefore, recognize Him in only one way. The moment you recognize Him in one way you will also recognize Him in the other way.
9. This Lord Siva, who is completely independent (svatantra), has the diversity of creation and destruction existing in His own nature. And, at the same time, this diversity is found existing in its own way as the field of ignorance
10. In this world you will find varieties of creation and destruction, some of which are created in the upper cycle, some of which are created below, and some of which are even created sideways. Attached to these worlds smaller portions of worlds are created. Pain, pleasure, and intellectual power are created according to the status of being. This is the world
11. If you do not understand that there is actually no span of time, this misunderstanding is also the independence (svatantrya) of Lord Siva. This misunderstanding results in worldly existence (samsara) . And those who are ignorant are terrified by worldly existence.
12. & 13. When, because the grace of Lord Siva is showered upon you, or due to the teachings or vibrating force of your Master, or through understanding the scriptures concerned with Supreme Siva, you attain the real knowledge of reality, that is the existent state of Lord Siva, and that is final liberation. This fullness is achieved by elevated souls and is called liberation in this life (jivanmukti).
14. These two cycles, bondage and liberation, are the play of Lord Siva and nothing else. They are not separate from Lord Siva because differentiated states have not risen at all. In reality, nothing has happened to Lord Siva.
15. In this way the Lord, Bhairava, the essence of all being, has held in His own way in His own nature, the three great energies: the energy of will (iccha-Sakti), the energy ofaction (kriya-sakti), and the energy of knowledge (jnana-sakti). These three energies are just like that trident which is the three-fold lotus. And seated on this lotus is Lord Bhairava, who is the nature of the whole universe of 118 worlds.
16. .I, Abhinavagupta, have written and revealed these verses for some of my dear disciples who have very little intellectual understanding. For those disciples, who are deeply devoted to me, I have composed these fifteen verses just to elevate them instantaneously.
by Abhinavagupta (Trans. John Hughes)