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Notre Dame philosophy professor woos Europe with intellectual prowess

| Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Vittorio Hösle, critically acclaimed for his work in philosophy and an intellectual celebrity in Europe, has worked at Notre Dame for 20 years. Hösle was the founding director of the University’s Institute for Advanced Study from 2008 to 2013, which holds a residential fellowship program wherein individuals from different disciplines can work together and discuss their research.

“I was asked to found [the Institute for Advanced Study] with the idea that [it] should try to connect normative and descriptive issues in an interdisciplinary way,” Hösle said.

Throughout his career, Hösle has written more than 50 books about philosophy, ranging from political philosophy in “Morals and Politics” to ecological philosophy in “Philosophy of Ecological Crisis.”

One of his most popular and acclaimed books is “The Dead Philosopher’s Café: An Exchange of Letters for Children and Adults.” In the work, Hösle published letters that he exchanged with an 11-year-old girl, teaching her various philosophical principles and ideas by pretending to meet the great philosophers of the past in a fictional cafe.

“I got a lot of emails from girls from Iran, from Japan, from Turkey [upon the translation of the book into 14 languages],” Hösle said. “They told me that this book was liberating for them because it showed them that we, even if we are young women, have the right and the capacity to think about such issues. The fact that there was a real girl of 11 years that was able to write such wonderful letters was enormously encouraging for the students.”

Hösle continues to keep in contact with the girl he wrote to, who is now an assistant professor of philosophy herself.

“You don’t write such involving letters without keeping a friendship for life,” Hösle said.

Hösle said he knew he wanted to be a philosopher by the time he attended university at age 17. He received his first Ph.D. at age 21 and his second at age 25.

“I was quite good in school in almost all disciplines, and I was interested in all of them. Philosophy gives you the ability to maintain a lot of your interests and study very different things,” Hösle said. “Philosophy, rightly understood, is an attempt to make sense of the whole of knowledge of the various disciplines which bring forth different claims that seem to be not compatible with each other. The task of philosophy is to unify this knowledge.”

Hösle was appointed member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in 2013. The Academy is comprised of experts in social science disciplines, such as economics, law, sociology and history, who work to inform and inspire the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Hösle is currently helping organize a “Nation, States and Nation States” conference for the Pontifical Academy, which explores the trends of nationalism in recent years and what role the Church should take. He also cooperated in an “Ethics in Action” Initiative, which was supported by the Academy. The Initiative brought together experts in various fields from different religions to deliberate on important issues such as environmental justice, Just War Theory and education.

“Often it is easier for the participants to agree on general principles, while the concrete issues remain controversial. But it is already really something when people can agree on certain generic issues,” Hösle said.

Hösle visits Rome multiple times a year to engage in such meetings with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and is inspired by the Pope and his teachings.

“I think that Pope Francis is an enormous gift to the Church,” Hösle said.

Currently, Hösle is getting ready to publish his next book which traces the world events that occurred from 2016 on — from the election of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, to Brexit, to the election of President Donald Trump — interpreting them in the context of a philosophy of history that takes seriously the phenomenon of cultural decline.

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