"Leibniz, Amo, and Capitein on Freedom and Slavery" - Talk by Justin E. H. Smith

Friday, April 9, 2021
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM (ET)
OCL Virtual Talk
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Griffin, Lisa
Provost Office

 "Leibniz, Amo, and Capitein on Freedom and Slavery"


Talk by Justin E. H. Smith

Professor, University of Paris

April 9, 2021

1:00 pm – 2:30 pm (ET)

Link to register for the Zoom event: https://haverford.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJcvcemvqDgoHdJpCusVywlTTrdkZRnAW_3j


Bio: Justin E. H. Smith is university professor of philosophy at the University of Paris. He is the author of Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (2019); The Philosopher: A History in Six Types (2016); Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy (2015); and Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life (2011). He is co-editor and translator, with Stephen Menn, of Anton Wilhelm Amo: Philosophical Dissertations on Mind and Body (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Abstract: In 1741 the Ghanaian theologian Jacobus Capitein published in Amsterdam a treatise entitled Slavery, Not Incompatible with Christianity. This work is commonly taken to be a defense of the institution of slavery as such, particularly in its modern trans-Atlantic manifestation. Capitein was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and needed to maintain good relations with the Dutch West Indies Company in order for his leadership of an orphanage-school in his home country to be successful. In this light, his argument is often taken to be one produced under political pressure, of political expedience but not of much theoretical interest. However, as I will show, Capitein is in fact deeply immersed in the very interesting philosophical and jurisprudential debates that had unfolded at the University of Halle over the preceding decades, implicating, notably, the Halle philosopher Christian Thomasius.  These debates generally centered on theoretical questions of freedom and sovereignty, and tended to draw on precedents in Roman law as a way of gaining insights into the rights of European serfs. An important background text for the Halle debates was G. W. Leibniz's 1702 Médiation sur la notion commune de la justice. In this talk I will briefly summarize Leibniz's main concerns here, in the aim, next, of shining some light on the central concerns of the Halle figures who debated freedom and slavery in the 1720s and 1730s, before moving, finally, to the work of Capitein. My interest is to venture an answer to the question: Why does Capitein not speak at all of the African slave trade? Is this a significant silence?  Or does he have different theoretical aims, similar to those of his Halle predecessors, that might justify this omission? 

Sponsored by the Department of Philosophy in conjunction with the Distinguished Visitors Program.

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