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"An utterly unique understanding of Kant"

Eckart Förster, who delivered the 30th annual Selfridge Lecture in Philosophy, teaches philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and also at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Steven Hansen ‘15, who majors in both computer engineering and German, takes every chance he can to explore new fields.

Last night, when philosopher Eckart Förster visited Lehigh to discuss the works of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Spinoza, Goethe and Kant, it presented Hansen with an opportunity he had to seize.

“I’ve always looked at the university as not just a school where you go to get information, but a place where we are in a state of intellectual growth,” said Hansen. “It’s a great honor to have a lecturer of Professor Förster’s caliber come.”

Förster’s lecture, titled “A Defense of Idealism,” was the 30th annual Selfridge Lecture in Philosophy, a series sponsored by Lehigh’s department of philosophy.

In an hour-long address to an audience that filled Sinclair Auditorium, Förster focused on the concept that if metaphysical idealism is to be accepted, it must go above and beyond the simple acknowledgment that ideas exist as the tenets of reality. Ideas, he said, must produce a proven method that can actually identify the ideas.

A “never-ending battle”

“To quote Plato, ‘the battle between naturalists and idealists is a never-ending one,’” said Förster, who is professor of philosophy, German, and the humanities at Johns Hopkins University and honorary professor of philosophy at Humboldt University in Berlin.

“To determine whether ideas are more than just ideas,” said Förster, “all approaches and methods should be complemented by all other approaches and methods.”

Förster answered many questions following his talk, which received a rousing applause.

Gordon C.F. Bearn, professor of philosophy at Lehigh, marveled at Förster’s command of the works of Kant and Goethe.

“We try to get people who are at the top of the field to give the Selfridge Lecture,” said Bearn. “One of the gods of contemporary philosophy is Kant. Förster looks at Kant in an utterly unique way. What makes his understanding of Kant so amazing is that he recognizes the inadequacies of Kant’s career. It’s almost as if he sees the threads that link the transitions of Kant’s career. It’s slightly rare for people to do that, and it takes courage and honesty.”

Förster is the latest in a long line of philosophers to give the Selfridge Lecture. Other recent lecturers include Roger Ames, Scott Soames, William C. Wimsatt and Claudia Card. Each lecturer delivers two public lectures and conducts several seminars while on campus.

Förster has also held visiting appointments at Princeton, Porto Alegre (Brazil) and Ohio State universities. He is widely published on the subjects of Kant and German idealism. His most recent book is The Twenty-Five Years of Philosophy: A Systematic Reconstruction (Harvard, 2012).

For more information on the Selfridge Lecture Series, visit https://philosophy.cas2.lehigh.edu/content/selfridge-lecture-series.

Story by Jeff Weber

Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2014

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