Rémi Brague Receives the Josef Pieper-Prize

 

The highlight of this year’s symposium of the Josef Pieper Stiftung with the title “Europe in Search of Itself” was the appearance of the French philosopher Rémi Brague. On May 17th, 2009 he received the Josef Pieper-Prize, endowed with the prize money of 15.000 Euro, in the historical city hall of Münster for his outstanding achievements in the research of European thinking. The diversity of his competencies corresponds to the diversity of cultures and ideas in contemporary Europe. Accordingly, the laudator Prof. Hans Maier started with a fitting self-characterization of Brague: “I am French, Catholic, a philosopher by education and a professor by profession. Originally, my field of research was classical Greek thinking; now it is shifting to the Middle Ages – the Jewish and Islamic spheres in particular.” Rémi Brague is “professor of two universities,” the Parisian Sorbonne and the University of Munich. Apart from his expertise in classical scholarship he is highly competent in contemporary problems. In his eyes, the demand that “as a Christian you have to love your enemies” does not mean that there are no enemies. Hence, he seriously studies the rational presuppositions of those who deny the holocaust as well as the attitudes of the Iranian president towards Israel. By doing so, he succeeds in breaking away from inflexible thought patterns of every-day life in modern society. For, as Maier notes, philosophy is not supposed to be “academic-esoteric behavior”, but ought to reach broad public attention. Brague’s lecture “Opening up and Integrating. How can Europe Have a Future?” confronts itself with exactly this task.

 

Prompted by the title of the symposium, Brague begins with inspiring questions: Is Europe in danger of losing itself? Is it already lost without knowing where to find itself again? Or has the task of searching for itself been forgotten? Does Europe actually want to search for itself? He suggests that Europe was successful in the past, because it did not explicitly search for itself, but for something foreign. According to Brague, “Europe was motivated by its longing for something other than itself.” In the more recent past, the state of peace in Europe after World War II paved the way to the formation of the European Union, granting Europe an ongoing phase of unprecedented security. Yet, what will the future bring? Brague considers a dialogue with other cultures, with America, Russia, the Islamic countries, China and India in particular, necessary for securing Europe’s survival. This presupposes that Europe knows itself and can thus present its own identity to others, in order to render a fruitful dialogue with other cultures possible. The problem is that Europe seems to lack an identity. In lieu thereof, it is more and more ruled by self-hatred and a “christophobia” being directed against its Christian foundations and paralyzing its will to live. In the light of the fact that the birth rate of the continent is decreasing steadily, Europe seems to be committing “demographic suicide.” Considering this, Pieper’s definition of the Christian Occident as “theologically founded worldliness” must be intensified. Where former cultures were able to leave the concern for their survival to nature, it is now a task of human freedom. For Brague, it is not sufficient to understand one’s existence exclusively from the hedonistic perspective. A strong metaphysics of the good is essential: “People must believe that human existence, including that of the unborn, is ultimately something good, that being and the good accord with one another.” Brague concludes that nowadays worldliness can only be founded theologically, since theological thinking alone is capable of appreciating the world. In contrast to the Marxist thesis, “faith is no superstructure, but an indispensable suprastructure of human life.”

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About Pieper:

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Münster/Germany; he was a member of several academies and received numerous awards and distinctions, among them the International Balzan Prize for outstanding achievements in the field of humanities. [more...]

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Philosophical studies are among the main institutional focuses of the Faculty of Theology in Paderborn in cooperation with the University of Paderborn. [more...]