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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Michel Onfray ou la philosophie à rebours

by Gillem Salles

Michel Onfray, or Philosophy in Reverse Gear

Translated Monday 21 August 2006, by Henry Crapo

France Culture, French national radio, retransmits each day talks by Michel Onfray at the Popular University of Caen (Normandie), which explore the history less known parts of the discipline of Philosophy

Michel Onfray, philosopher and writer, delights us with a radiophonic pearl, for the fourth consecutive year, Monday through Friday from 19h to 20h on France Culture. The broadcast regroups recordings of a series of talks given by Onfray at the Popular University of Caen, of which he is the founder, on the theme "The best of the pack (the ultras) of the French Enlightenment"

This assemblage of reflections is an element of a vast project designed to rehabilitate "twenty-five centuries of forgotten philosophy", a veritable "counter-history of Philosophy", which gathers together authors voluntarily placed in the shadows by educational texts, colloquia, and other university work. "The history of Philosophy is written by the winners of a battle that, speaking loosely, opposed idealists and materialists. Under Christianity, the former have held intellectual power for the last 20 centuries", Michel Onfray tells us.

He proposes therefore to rediscover "this immense continent of Philosophy" by means of talks provided without cost each Tuesday evening from mid-October to mid-May at the Popular University of Caen. These two-hour sessions (a one-hour talk, followed by an hour of responses to questions from those in the amphitheater) express a desire for democratization of culture. The content of the talks is to be accessible. "The popular university belongs to no one, except to those who carry it away in their minds", notes the philosopher. Being "open to the entire public" allows the course to overcome the closed environment generally created by university elitism. These talks create a synthesis between the rigor of university discourse and "the interactivity, the dialogue" inherent in the notion of a philosophy café. It is the exchange between the "professor" and his "students" that conditions the acquisition of knowledge.

"The best of the pack of the French Enlightenment (Les ultras des Lumières)" thus pursues a long bi-path of "alternative philosophy" in a logic of "resistance to christianism", the idealism of which has eclipsed reality now for twenty centuries. This is the occasion for a serious neophyte to encounter the century of the French Enlightenment from a new angle, with authors little known, like Jean Meslier, "atheistic, materialist, communist priest", Maupertius, "inventor of French utilitarism", or Helvétius, "radical reformer", to each of whom Michel Onfray devotes two broadcasts, on the average.

This evening (17 August) at 19h, the philosopher invites us to "deconstruct christianism" following the work of D’Holbach, a "unstoppable atheist" for whom Religion is simply a "human forgery". D’Holbach proceeds meticulously to take Religion apart, in its spiritual and mythological dimensions, as temporal and historical. The reading of the sacred texts thereby reveal a number of contradictions, the Christian religion is shown to be "antisocial" and its morality "inhumane". The enlightened commentaries of Michel Onfray, and his almost bewitching voice, will not fail to enlighten us on these philosophical matters.

published in l’Humanité on Thursday 17 August, page 17.

Translator’s notes:

These broadcasts
will at times be available on the web at the site of France Culture.

See also the site of L’Université populaire de Caen

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