19 June 2017 from 14:30 to 15:45

PhD thesis defence Tom Giesbers on German realism around 1800

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) Bron: Wikimedia Commons
Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) Bron: Wikimedia Commons

Around 1800, in addition to the well-studied group of idealists, there was also a group of realists, who have received relatively scant scholarly attention individually and almost no attention as a group. Tom Giesbers (Philosophy) examines this group of realists in his PhD thesis.

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi's realism

Giesbers will do so primarily by studying the founder of the group, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, whose systematic commitments inspired a larger group of realists, who variously adapted the position to their own needs, followed it to the point of orthodoxy or developed it further. Throughout the study, he will examine these various ways of being a realist in Jacobi's sense and will argue that there are many shared characteristics, commitments and lines of argumentation that the realists have in common with the idealists.

Drs. Tom Giesbers
Drs. Tom Giesbers

Applied rationality

For the philosophical debate one of the most important conclusions of Giesbers's research into the group of realists around 1800 are that rationality does not exist without an individual who has a practical engagement with his surroundings. In this sense, rationality can only be understood as an applied rationality, in which we determine with which means and with what actions we can best achieve our goals (this is the case for needs as well as in ethics).

The uncertainty of being real

Furthermore he finds that as important as it is to realise that our experiential world is understood from our perspective as an individual, there is no way to prove from this that we exist, that we are real. There is therefore always a core of our existence that remains outside of our experience and our reflection alike. The way in which this core remains outside of our experience is also the way in which we are free. After all, there is no way in which this core can be influenced.

Philosophical consequences

The above views have far-reaching consequences for philosophy. It is not the task of philosophy to offer an insight into something that we do not already experience or reflect on. Philosophy only describes what we already perceive and reflect on. For many of the realists it is the task of philosophy to understand where our ability to conceive of something ends and what then remains inconceivable (our existence, reality).

Nature and history of philosophy

Partly the realists are society's reaction to the pretensions of the philosophers. In addition to this, the realists generally produce avenues of reasoning that adhere to the standards of philosophical argumentation, such as coherence and depth. It is then not surprising that some of these avenues of reasoning were adopted by the idealists and as such became part of the established discourse. The realists also introduced the question about the nature of philosophy into this discourse, at a time when many sciences were being emancipated from the philosophical faculty. In this they made important contributions to the immense complexity of this period in the history of philosophy.

Start date and time
19 June 2017 14:30
End date and time
19 June 2017 15:45
PhD candidate
Tom Giesbers
The Wall or the Door: German Realism around 1800
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Paul ZicheDr Dirk van Miert
Entrance fee