​​​​​​2016 ISSEI conference 

The University of Lodz, Poland

Chair: Brayton Polka
Professor Emeritus of Social and Political Thought
and of Humanities, York University, Toronto, Canada

Workshop: Critical Reflections on the New and the Old in European Culture 

In light of the 2016 ISSEI conference theme—“What’s New in the New Europe? Redefining Culture, Politics, Identity”—this workshop is devoted to a critical evaluation, at once historical and ontological, of the very concepts of the new and the old within the European cultural tradition. How do we determine what is new and what is old, whether in terms that are philosophical, theological, artistic, ethical (individual), political (social), etc.? What, indeed, is the very origin of the concepts of new and old? When Tertullian famously asked—What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem—did he not imply that the concepts of new and old were totally different in Athens and in Jerusalem (with the second to be identified with the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam)? How are we to think about the fundamental difference between the concept of poesis (making), which is central to antiquity, and the concept of creation, which is central to the Bible and its traditions? 

  • In Greek and Roman antiquity it was held that nothing is made from nothing (ex nihilo nihil fit), i.e., everything is made from everything (consistent with Ovid’s Metamorphoses). Lucretius, for example, cites this principle in Part 1 of his On the Nature of Things as the philosophical (poetic) principle whose violation is unthinkable. ​

  • According to the Bible, it is held that creation is from nothing (the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo). Everything creative (whether human or divine) is made from nothing, i.e., from nothing that is natural (from nothing that is given in the space and time of nature). 

How, then, does the concept of creation inform our understanding, at once historical and ontological, of the ideas of the new and the old, including the idea of progress? How are we to understand the idea of progress in light of the ironic reflection that we find in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling: they say, in our progressive nineteenth century, that, while nobody can go beyond Hegel, anybody can go beyond Abraham? But how, it is then asked, can we go beyond Abraham, beyond the father of faith, beyond being a faithful individual? For is it not the singular task of the single individual to get at least as far in life as being an individual of good faith—in loving your neighbor as yourself? We are reminded of Spinoza’s observation in the Ethics that, because existence is perfection, existence is the transition either to greater or to lesser perfection. (See Part 3, Definitions of the Affects, 1-3; and Part 4, Preface.) 

What, then, we may ask, are the concepts of temporality (i.e., of history) and of existence (i.e., of being, of ontology) that are presupposed by the concepts of the new and the old? Is there anything new that is not historical? Can the old be old except in the context of what is historically new? Does not historical temporality involve the future no less than the past? How, then, are we to think about Nietzsche’s aperçu that we are to become the person we are? Is the person we are—yet are to become—new or old? Is the person we are to become—yet are—old or new? Are we then to say that Europe is to become the cultural union/the union of culture it is and to be the cultural union/the union of culture it becomes?

This workshop invites papers in which their authors reflect critically on the ideas of the new and the old within the context of European culture past, present, and future.

Please submit a 350–500 word abstract to Brayton Polka, at: bpolka@rogers.com