Jonathan Rée

Jonathan Rée’s Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English is out in paperback.

Ernst Cassirer​ got a warm welcome when he moved to the United States in 1941. He was a near perfect embodiment of the idea of the great European thinker: not only a multilingual intellectual historian, doubtless familiar with every significant document of Western civilisation, but also a synoptic philosopher who had explored the deep questions that animate cultures and give meaning to...

Wittgenstein’s scepticism about logical ‘objects’ was an affront to all that Bertrand Russell held dear, and he resisted it fiercely. But then he was mollified by a gift of ‘lovely roses’: Wittgenstein was ‘<em>the</em> young man one hopes for’, he now wrote to Ottoline Morrell, and ‘I like him very much.’ After undergoing further bouts of ruthless criticism, he confessed to being ‘strangely excited’ by Wittgenstein: ‘I love him,’ he said, and he hoped to appoint him as his successor and watch him ‘solve the problems I am too old to solve’. Wittgenstein wasn’t particularly impressed by Russell’s adoration. If his philosophical capacities were as exceptional as Russell seemed to think, then this was a curious fact – like having beautiful ears or excellent eyesight – but not an occasion for pride, still less for boasting.

At the turn​ of the 20th century, Gaston Gallimard was one of many suave young men about Paris with exquisite taste in literature, music and art. Then he became friends not only with Proust, but also with Gide, who in 1908 started the monthly Nouvelle Revue Française in the hope of helping a ‘rising generation’ to escape the suffocating plushness of...

Blame it on Darwin

Jonathan Rée, 5 October 2017

When​ the 22-year-old Charles Darwin joined HMS Beagle in 1831 he took a copy of Paradise Lost with him, and over the next five years he read it many times, in Brazil, Patagonia, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Mauritius. As the ship’s naturalist he sent commentaries and specimens back to colleagues in London, who soon came to see him not as a dilettante but an extremely acute...

Horrible Heresies: Spinoza’s Big Idea

Jonathan Rée, 16 March 2017

Baruch Spinoza​ was fascinated by human follies, and in the Ethica he set out to examine them dispassionately. ‘These turmoils move me neither to laughter nor even to tears,’ he said, ‘but to philosophising.’ With philosophy’s help he cast a cold eye on servitus humana, or ‘human bondage’, arguing that our ‘vices and absurdities’ were not...

Harry Rée wanted his British audience to understand that the French men and women who had taken part in the Resistance were not superhuman. ‘What I shall try to get across,’ he told a symposium in...

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Jonathan Rée takes some tomfoolery from Shakespeare for his title and uses it to create his own striking metaphor. The middle part of his book is about sign languages for the deaf: voices...

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Thou shalt wage class war

Gareth Stedman Jones, 1 November 1984

Sometime in the late Sixties, I was invited, along with some senior socialist historians, to meet Bill Craik, a veteran and pioneer, so I was told, of independent working-class education. The...

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