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HPP Talk: 12th February, Patrick Madigan

On the 12th of February Patrick Madigan spoke on the topic 'Expressive Individualism, the Cult of the Artist as Genius, and Milton’s Lucifer' at a guest seminar hosted by the Humane Philosophy Project.

Abstract: I start off with what the American Sociologist Robert Bellah and the Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor call ‘Expressive Individualism’, and which they present as the default life style of our time, especially in the West. I give some examples and then ask about the origin of this life style. I first trace this back to the cult of the artist revered as a ‘genius’, which flourished during the 19th century; this cult has been democritized and universalized in our time. I then trace its origins one step further to the depiction John Milton gives of Lucifer in his poem Paradise Lost; in Milton’s altered portrayal, Lucifer rejects not only Jesus as the highest creature, he rejects the Father as father. He declares ‘I know none before me: I am self-begot’. In so far as we embrace ‘expressive individualism’ as an ethic for our time, therefore, we are implicitly committed to Milton’s Lucifer as an archetype for human fulfiment; I suggest this might be a toxic model.

Patrick Madigan took his undergraduate degree from Boston College, and his Masters and Doctorate in Philosophy from Tulane University in New Orleans (1972). He entered the Society of Jesus in 1975, and subsequently taught philosophy at Loyola University in New Orleans and Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. He spent twelve years in Zimbabwe helping to found the Jesuit School of Philosophy and Theology in Harare. In 2006 he became editor of the Heythrop Journal, where he has been working ever since.


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