Warsaw, Polish Academy of Sciences, 14-15 June 2018

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Philosophical histories of ethics normally concentrate on eminent figures of the canon. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these figures (one might think of practical wisdom of Erasmus or Michel de Montaigne, as well as new setting of moral thought in Descartes, Thomas Hobbes or Spinoza, for example) worked in different institutional contexts, but rarely at universities. This has made the ‘academic philosophy’ of the period a field that is still underestimated in its impact and intellectual endeavours. During the last decades, however, the sharp distinction between innovative thinkers, pointing towards modernity, on the one hand, and conservative university teachers, concerned with overcome doctrines, on the other, has diminished.
In a time of confessional struggles, political divisions and severe military conflicts, the teaching of ethics had to react to many challenges, and yet it seems to have developed a common, European-wide platform of methods, ideas, and cultural references to classical as well as medieval moral thought. In fact, universities were among the most important institutional contexts in which early modern ethics was taught and developed. Situated in the faculty of arts, practical philosophy made part of the curriculum, preparing for the higher faculties, theology and jurisprudence. Teachers of ethics read authors such as Aristotle and Cicero to their students, translated them, commented on them, and discussed their writings in dissertations and disputations.

In the framework of the conference, we would like to address a series of questions related to the teaching of ethics at early modern universities:

  • Who were the teachers, and which courses did they teach exactly?
  • What was the textual basis for teaching ethics? Was Aristotelianism as dominant as has been argued?
  • What was the status of ethics at the universities? Which were the strategies to institutionalize the teaching of ethics and to secure its place in early modern curricula?
  • How was the uneasy relationship with other, higher ranking ‘normative’ disciplines such as theology and jurisprudence negotiated?
  • In which ways did religious reformation and confessional struggle influence the field?
  • How did ethics relate to the other parts of practical philosophy, politics and economics?
  • How did ethics as a discipline at the universities react to the manifold conflicts and challenges of the period?
  • Were there any developments or shifts in the teaching of ethics in the early modern period?

The conference will inquire into these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective and set them within a European context.

The organizers are Danilo Facca (Polish Academy of Sciences), Valentina Lepri (Polish Academy of Sciences), and Matthias Roick (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen).

Invited speakers

Mordechai Feingold, California Institute of Technology

David Lines, University of Warwick

Diego Quaglioni, University of Trento

Paper Proposals

The language of the conference is English. Please send title, short abstract (max. 250 words), keywords, and contact information (including institutional affiliation) to Valentina Lepri, ( and Matthias Roick ( by 28 February 2018.

Acceptance decisions will be sent via email on 20 March 2018.

Registration Fees and Payment Methods

The fee to attend the event is 70 zloty (or 16 euro) and includes conference materials, breaks, lunches, and conference gala dinner. Payments are non-refundable, and must be made via bank transfer to the following account:

Instytut Filozofii i Socjologii Polskiej Akademii Nauk, Ul. Nowy Świat 72, 00-330 Warszawa, BGK 55 1130 1017 0020 1463 0820 0001 [Please, state: ‘Partecipation fee for the conference “Teaching ethics at early modern universities”].

The deadline for registration is the 10th of April 2018.

Certificate of Attendance

Your certificate of attendance will not be available onsite, it will be sent by e-mail after the conference.

The conference and the publication of revised papers are sponsored by the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Freigeist programme of the VolkswagenStiftung, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skolodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 701419.


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