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“Is There Such a Thing as Truth—and Can We Live in It? A Philosophical History of Eastern Europe in the Long 20th Century

Start Date and Time:

Thursday, November 14, 2019, 10:00AM

End Date and Time:

Thursday, November 14, 2019, 11:30AM


Marci Shore

As a dissident under communism, Václav Havel insisted on the imperative “to live in truth.” Thirty years ago, the Velvet Revolution ushered the dissident playwright into the presidency of Czechoslovakia. In his first speech to the United States Congress, Havel asserted, “Consciousness precedes Being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim.” Few of Havel’s American listeners had any idea what he meant. In fact, Havel, like other dissident thinkers, was not countering communism with liberalism, but rather countering a Hegelian-Marxist tradition with a phenomenological-existentialist one. The origins of East European dissident thought can be traced back to Edmund Husserl and T.G. Masaryk in the late 19th century, and the post-Enlightenment attempt to find a grounding for truth in the absence of God. After Stalin’s death, Heidegger’s philosophy became an antidote to what Czesław Miłosz named “the Hegelian bite.” This century-long arc reveals a path from epistemology through ontology to ethics, from a preoccupation with clarity and certitude through a preoccupation with determinism versus responsibility, to a preoccupation with authenticity as a moral stance.


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