Attention to the subject, Mulder points out, peaks each year on the Night of Philosophy. Held annually at the International School of Philosophy, it attracts a lay audience a thousand strong. As one organizer says, “The Dutch see an evening of philosophizing as a night out”: many cafes hold philosophical readings and discussions and books of philosophy regularly become best-sellers.
Mulder dates the growth of popular interest in the subject to the early 1990s, when neo-liberalism, commercialism and “hyper-individualism” began to disenchant the Dutch, whetting their appetites for fresh conceptions of society and the good life.
Regularly among the most desirable places in the world to live, Holland’s public discourse has had to encounter many uncomfortable conversations as the nation’s character has met with developments in a post-9/11 geopolitical climate:
But more recently, Mulder writes, Islam may have done the most to push philosophy into public life, by bringing certain fundamental (and discomfiting) questions to the fore: What is Enlightenment? What are Western values, and what grounds them? Is there a legitimate basis for the cross-cultural appraisal of values? Do all religions need to pass through a secularizing phase to have a place in the modern world and its political arrangements? Is democracy antithetical to religion? The various answers returned to these questions have sometimes been disturbing, but one cannot doubt that the questions have philosophical substance.
I think a few of the questions above – not to mention a few others that could be tied into this conversation – connect to something that Nick & Chris are getting at in the comments of Chris’ post (which is really a lengthy reply to Liam’s original question, Nature? What Nature?), but may also beg the question of how Canadian, or North American philosophical life measures up against our Scandanavian friends. What might our different degrees of commitment to personal and public philosophizing say about our different societies, or cultural experience?