Thomas Pfau

Thomas Pfau is the Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of English at Duke University, with secondary appointments in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures and the Duke Divinity School. His first book, Wordsworth’s Profession: Form, Class, and the Logic of Early Romantic Cultural Production was published by Stanford University Press in 1997. Romantic Moods: Paranoia, Trauma, Melancholy, 1790-1840 appeared from Johns Hopkins UP in 2005. He has edited numerous essay collections, special journal issues, as well as translated two volumes with essays and letters by F. Hölderlin and F. W. J. Schelling. A recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center and the ACLS in 2011, Thomas Pfau has just published his latest monograph, Minding the Modern: Human Agency, Intellectual Traditions, and Responsible Knowledge (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013).

Posts by Thomas Pfau:

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

The Fantastic Mr. Hobbes

Some readers of Minding the Modern have been surprised to find my account so firmly critical of Thomas Hobbes on will and personhood. Now, it is both incidental and inevitable that my reading challenges recent attempts to claim Hobbes as a precursor of modern liberalism and individualism. Long before me, of course, a wide and diverse array of thinkers (Hannah Arendt, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, John Milbank, Louis Dupré, Michael Oakeshott) had probed the conceptual weakness of modern Liberalism, particularly its propensity to expire in an omnipresent state, putatively enlightened and benevolent as it orders and controls individual and social life at every level. If my reading of Hobbes casts doubt on some of modern Liberalism’s cherished axioms and aspirations, this only points to a certain lack of discernment among those who would identify Hobbes as a heroic precursor of an enlightened, secular, and liberal politics, of whose lasting benefits they remain unshakably persuaded. That said, political theory is not a principal concern of Minding the Modern, whereas putting analytic pressure on modern philosophy’s assumptions about human agency, rationality, and volition very much is.

Read the rest of The Fantastic Mr. Hobbes.
Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Modernity as a hermeneutic problem

I should thank the organizers at The Immanent Frame for hosting a forum on Minding the Modern and all respondents for their participation. As expected, the forum has not just yielded considerably divergent appraisals, but has also revealed respondents’ often strikingly disparate assumptions about what it means to engage a large-scale intellectual narrative. Clearly, to proffer such a narrative is a risky proposition in an academic environment characterized by ever more minute forms of specialization and by an often proprietary view of the knowledge produced under such conditions. Since restrictions of space make it impossible for me to address each response with the detail that one might wish for, a broader, thematic approach seems the best alternative. Hence my response to the various statements posted at this forum will be divided into three parts: the editors of The Immanent Frame have kindly agreed to publish the first two parts of my response and to create a link to the third.

Read the rest of Modernity as a hermeneutic problem.
Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

History without hermeneutics: Brad Gregory’s unintended modernity

I would like to draw attention to three aspects of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, a book whose courage and ambition I applaud, if for no other reason than that it exemplifies what an engaged form of historiography (and humanistic inquiry more generally) can and should do. The first aspect has to do with the commercialization and commodification of knowledge in post-Reformation modernity and how it impacts advanced inquiry today. From it follows my second concern, which lies with the indebtedness of Gregory’s own narrative to the fruits of modern, disciplinary and specialized inquiry. Finally, I wish to take up the question of whether Gregory’s historiographical approach might be seriously compromised by the apparent absence of a focused hermeneutical engagement with the major voices (theological, philosophical, political, economic, etc.) widely credited with shaping the landscape of post-Reformation modernity, both secular and religious.

Read the rest of History without hermeneutics: Brad Gregory’s unintended modernity.