Professor Duncan F Kennedy

M.A.(Dub.), Ph.D.(Cantab.)

  • BS8 1TB

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Personal profile

Research interests

I am currently engaged in thinking about ‘theory’ and the representation of ‘the theoretical subject’, which historically arise out of the cultural practice of spectatorship (theōria) at Panhellenic festivals. Their development as part of an emergent discourse of ‘philosophy’ in the fourth century BC, notably in the work of Plato, has been a particular concern of the German phenomenological and existential critique of metaphysics, especially in the work of Hannah Arendt (The Life of the Mind, 1976), Hans Jonas, Hans Blumenberg and, most recently, Peter Sloterdijk (Scheintod im Denken, 2010 = The Art of Philosophy, 2012); this critical and self-reflexive analysis of ‘thinking’ arises out of, and in reaction to, Heidegger’s work, and the crisis his association with Nazism prompted among his pupils. Notwithstanding the centrality of the self-representation of Greek philosophy to this analysis, the impact of this work on the study of ancient thought systems and their interaction with their historical and political contexts has hitherto been slight, with the notable exception of Andrea Nightingale’s Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy, 2004.

My own interest in this has arisen out of an essay I recently published, ‘The Political Epistemology of Infinity’ (in eds. Lehoux, Morrison and Sharrock, Lucretius: Poetry, Philosophy, Science, 2013), in which I explored how one might plot connections between philosophical discussions of infinity and the emergence of the notion of universal empire centred upon a single ruler. This has led me to ponder more general questions about abstract thinking, especially involving appeals to truth, and its contexts: what prompts a turn to ‘philosophical’ thinking? Under what sorts of circumstances is an appeal to theoretical ‘truth’ made? Is such thinking, as is sometimes suggested, a ‘discourse of defeat’, a response to what is experienced as the failure of a set of values or beliefs, of cultural norms and expectations? The response of Plato to the crisis of the democratic polis (cf. Danielle Allen’s Why Plato Wrote, 2008) or of Augustine to the sack of Rome are major test cases, but initially I am exploring these issues in relation to the appeal to theory by Lucretius and Cicero in Rome of the 50s and 40s BC.


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