British philosopher Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) was a theorist of individualism in a time of conformism. He did not follow any of the major “schools” of philosophy of his day, preferring to strike his own path. His work has sometimes been called “liberal” and sometimes “conservative”, and it is certainly “radical” in some ways as well, such as in its rejection of moralism in politics. He was one of the deepest thinkers about what is known as liberal education, which is one of the goals of a university education. But a true liberal education, he observed, cannot result in a uniform, mass-produced, conformist product. In these days of crisis in higher education, perhaps it is time to look at his work again.
Oakeshott drew heavily on the English tradition in political philosophy, on such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill. He was himself often compared to twentieth century thinkers such as Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, and C. B. Macpherson. But his connections, historical or conceptual, with a wider range of thinkers also bear rethinking, and that is one of the purposes of this conference. His work will be compared with that of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian genius who overlapped with him some years at Cambridge, and José Ortega y Gasset, one of the great Spanish thinkers of the twentieth century. We will also return to the French connection with Jean Jacques Rousseau: there are affinities as well as huge antipathies. Oakeshott’s first major book drew on Hegel at a time when Hegel was unpopular in England; there is more to be done in exploring this aspect of his work.
It is too much to say that Oakeshott scholarship has been exclusively dominated by English reflection on their own great thinker, but there is something original in our project: to bring American experts together with a research group from Spain which has been involved in the cosmopolitan project of interpreting Oakeshott. Looking at Oakeshott from a distance, so to speak, may help us find overlooked implications of his thought.
For more information, contact Dr. Cyrus Masroori at: firstname.lastname@example.org.