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Presenter: Dr Ian Hesketh (Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, UQ)

This seminar will examine the papers of the Metaphysical Society, which have recently been collected and published as a three-volume Oxford University Press critical edition. The Metaphysical Society was one of the great private clubs of late Victorian Britain, bringing together a diversity of Britain’s leading intellectuals who would meet on a monthly basis to listen and to discuss a member’s paper on a burning subject of metaphysical import. One of the surprising peculiarities of the Metaphysical Society is that evolution, as a subject of debate and inquiry, does not seem to figure prominently in the society’s papers. This is surprising given the centrality that evolution played in debates about science and religion during the period of the society’s existence. Its relative absence, historians have speculated, was due to the fact that most members seemed to be motivated by a larger epistemological debate between intuitionism and empiricism that was the product of a pre-Darwinian generation. This, no doubt, goes some way to explain the extensive references to the work of philosophers such as John Stuart Mill or Immanuel Kant in contrast to the seeming paucity of references to Charles Darwin.

This seminar will examine the papers of the Metaphysical Society, which have recently been collected and published as a three-volume Oxford University Press critical edition. The Metaphysical Society was one of the great private clubs of late Victorian Britain, bringing together a diversity of Britain’s leading intellectuals who would meet on a monthly basis to listen and to discuss a member’s paper on a burning subject of metaphysical import. One of the surprising peculiarities of the Metaphysical Society is that evolution, as a subject of debate and inquiry, does not seem to figure prominently in the society’s papers. This is surprising given the centrality that evolution played in debates about science and religion during the period of the society’s existence. Its relative absence, historians have speculated, was due to the fact that most members seemed to be motivated by a larger epistemological debate between intuitionism and empiricism that was the product of a pre-Darwinian generation. This, no doubt, goes some way to explain the extensive references to the work of philosophers such as John Stuart Mill or Immanuel Kant in contrast to the seeming paucity of references to Charles Darwin.


Ian Hesketh is a senior research fellow working with Peter Harrison on the Australian Laureate Fellowship project, Science and Secularization. His research considers the relationship between history, science, and religion in nineteenth-century Britain. His books include, Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford Debate (2009), The Science of History in Victorian Britain (2011), and the forthcoming Victorian Jesus: JR Seeley, Religion, and the Cultural Significance of Anonymity (2017).


For further information please contact p.jory@uq.edu.au.

Venue

Forgan Smith Building (1),
St Lucia campus
Room: 
E319

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