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The Architecture of Concepts: Parsing Human Rights

Page history last edited by Seth Rudy 11 years, 2 months ago

The Re:Enlightenment Project and the English Department at New York University Present: 


Peter de Bolla

Fellow of King's College, Cambridge University


"The Architecture of Concepts: Parsing Human Rights"


Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

4:00 - 7:00PM


Fales Library and Special Collections, 3rd Floor

Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South  


How do concepts get formed?  Are they invented, discovered or inherited?  In order to answer such a question we need to know more about the internal structures of concepts: their architectures.  This lecture sets out a methodology for discerning the architecture of concepts in history derived from the powerful new tools made available to us by the digital archive.  It seeks to demonstrate how concepts are built and the grammars of their articulation by taking one example, the concept of human rights.  It is commonly held that this concept has its origin in the enlightenment, more specifically at the end of the eighteenth century.  Through an analysis of the concept's architecture we can begin to see how the qualifier 'human' is both central to this architecture and, also, how distant our current attempts to use the concept are from its origin in the Enlightenment.  The lecture closes with some remarks about that distance and proposes that either we might need to rethink, or rebuild the architecture of the concept if it is to be useful to us today, or, perhaps more radically, suggests that we have yet to achieve the 'human' as conceptualised by the Enlightenment. In this sense the Enlightenment is an unfinished project which we might do well to recognise even if its 'completion' may only ever remain a horizon of possibility.


Professor de Bolla is the author and editor of many important books on eighteenth century topics (British and transatlantic) and on aesthetics, including Art Matters, The Education of the Eye: Painting, Landscape, and Architecture in Eighteenth-Century Britain, The Sublime: A Reader in British Eighteenth-Century Aesthetic Theory, Land, Nation and Culture, 1740-1840: Thinking the Republic of Taste, and, just a few months ago, The Fourth of July: And the Founding of America. 


A reception will follow.

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