I seem to have set off some fiery arguments about the philosophical v the historical...! Maybe it would be useful for me to explain a bit further what I meant in saying that the 'philosophical' is daunting. I think what I mean is that taking philosophical ideas running through the utopias and evaluating their value, or reacting on a personal level to floating concepts in the texts seems to me to be too abstract.
However, thinking about the 'history of ideas' or 'philosophical thought' (as Sarah has suggested) in a historical framework is clearly central to thinking about utopianism in history. This might involve looking at the various approaches of authors to certain concepts in relation to their time, situation, influences on them etc ? Any of the various approaches that have been suggested by Toby and Sarah below seem to be interesting and 'historical'. Looking at these things in different ways will steer us away from trying to argue about what is the 'right' or 'correct' philosophical stance to hold. This possibly backs up what Olly has said about stimulating debate rather than seeking the 'truth'.
But I do think that it is important to grapple with some of the (more fixed?) ideas behind the texts, even if this does mean thinking about puragtory in Dante's Inferno ! In relation to the bullet points in 'So Far' below, they seem very directed towards looking in an in-depth way at the concepts in a text. Would this mean arguing about for example, the way that 'free will and law' works in a particular text? This seems a very 'literary' way to approach the utopias....unless we would be placing them within a tradition of the history or ideas, that is. Maybe I'm going around in circles! I like the final bullet point though - looking at form, context of creation, impact of utopian thought etc. I hope this makes my point a bit clearer (but I'm not sure if I'm still speaking for those in the pub...).
I think drinks after Friday sounds like a great idea (especially if we end up having Vanbrugh roast lunch)!
Sunday, 3 February 2008