Spinoza Lived Here

Via the Dutch online magazine Filosofie:

‘ALL OF THESE PEOPLE COME HERE FOR PHILOSOPHY?’

Foreign philosophers often react with surprise: why is philosophy so popular in the Netherlands? Dutch philosophers write bestsellers, the “philosophical cafes” are full, and the Month of Philosophy is flourishing. Does it have something to do with the national character of the Dutch? And does this say anything about the quest for meaning in the Netherlands?

There is a festival-like atmosphere on the creaking stairs of Felix Meritis, a large canal house that has been converted into a debate center. The Night of Philosophy is taking place here, as it does every year. Dozens of people are waiting in line to go downstairs, where five leading thinkers will be discussing the role of religion in secular society. At the same time, another part of the audience is heading upstairs, where a few well-known speakers will be having one-on-one debates about ideas related to this year’s popular theme: the soul.

The atmosphere is light and festive, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that deep analysis is taking place in some of the rooms. While stand-up philosophers debate with the audience about the existence of the soul, on the second floor a lecture is being given about Nietzsche, and on the top floor the French philosopher Frédéric Lenoir is explaining to thirty people how money has become a religion.

“To be honest, I don’t come here for the content,” says a participating philosopher who spends most of his unscheduled time in the backstage area, where the free beer is. “Debates are always disappointing, but I don’t mind that. This is basically theater, this is fun! It’s like a puppet show.”

But with a thousand visitors, the event is once again full, like it is every year. “Although it might be hard to believe in other countries, a lot of Dutch people just really enjoy philosophy,” said Erno Eskens, who organizes courses and readings at the ISVW, the Dutch acronym for the International School of Philosophy. “The Dutch see an evening of philosophizing as a night out. Maybe it’s comparable to French culture; that’s where the salons began, whereas the Netherlands is where is the phenomenon of readings began. We love readings, since they fit in with our Protestant writing culture.”

[Ctd. here]

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