Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Dec 2008

The Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies

For whatever reason, I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out at the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies (Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici), (maybe I'm too Sophoclean!) but it’s an interesting place. One of the best public lectures plus Q & A sessions I ever attended was there some years ago when researchers, Allen and Beatrice Gardner, presented findings on their Project Washoe and the cognitive abilities of chimpanzees. It was an example of the wide-ranging program at the Institute, some of which may seem only peripherally connected with philosophy. (Primate cognition, I suppose, is one of the border areas.)

The institute was founded in 1975 in Naples by Gerardo Marotta and others. At first, it was under the auspices of the Accademia dei Lincei (known in English as The Lincean Academy), the prestigious organization founded in 1603 in Rome, at the beginnings of modern science. (The Institute is thus part of a long tradition in Naples that even boasts a predecessor to the Accademia dei Lincei: the Academia Secretorum of Giambattista della Porta).

In 1983, the Institute moved into the 18th-century Palazzo Serra di Cassano (entrance, photo, right). At its heart, of course, is the library, the nucleus of which is more than 100,000 volumes that were collected over some thirty years of patient searching throughout Europe. The beautiful premises are sufficiently upscale for “philosophical studies.” (I know, I know—you don’t need upscale. Someone famous and philosophical once said that all you really need is a teacher, a disciple and a log to sit on. But “upscale” is still nice.) The Palazzo Serra di Cassano is one of the most remarkable buildings in Naples and because of the Institute attracts the attention of scholars throughout the world.

Over the years, the premises have hosted seminars with modern philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Karl Popper and scientists such as Rita Levi Montalcini, Carlo Rubbia, Steven Weinberg, Sheldon Glashow and Ilya Prigogine, all Nobel Prize winners. The institute seems to be open all the time, at least during the long academic year (from September through late July) and is usually crawling with graduate students, researchers and just ordinary people interested in one or more of the items on the very active seminar schedule or in simply browsing in some of the publications of the Institute.

Their current webpage displays a wide range of material on a long list of philosophers, from Socrates and Plato to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as well as a complete list of seminars to be held in the coming months. There is obviously some overlap with another institute in Naples, the one for Historical Studies founded by Benedetto Croce in 1946. I see, for example, an upcoming presentation of a recent —and what looks to be interesting— book entitled The Hamilton Letters, The Naples Dispatches of Sir William Hamilton. The Institute provides student and researcher exchanges with many foreign universities and since 1980 has had its own School of Graduate Studies.

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