The German philosopher Martin Heidegger frequently made use of the Pietist mantra that “denken ist danken“, that “to think is to thank”. Even if this etymological connection only holds in languages with Germanic roots (for example, there is no such connection between the French penser and remercier), it seems quite appropriate to begin this new blog with not only a wish of good luck to all my second-year BA students as they take their ‘Conceptual Foundations of Modernity’ exam tomorrow, but also with a gesture of thanks to you all. I know I’ve gained a lot from the unit, from your questions and from the essays you’ve produced over the last two terms.
There is a famous academic joke that consists of responding when asked if you’ve read a certain book with the line “Read it? I haven’t even taught it yet!”. Putting aside the jokes hyperbolic excess, we can perhaps reinterpret it as stating a basic truth that one doesn’t really even begin to understand a text when one first reads it, when one is taught it, but that truly starting to grasp it comes some time after you’ve explained it to someone else, after you’ve shared it and then returned to it once more. All of these classic texts we’ve been discussing in class, from Spinoza’s Ethics to Hobbes’ Leviathan remain very much “to be read”, by me as much as you. So, it is right to start this blog, which will hopefully touch on beginning once more to return to and read those very texts, with a thanks to all those who through helping to begin their task of reading and thinking have helped me to begin mine.