How Infinity Came to Be at Home in the World: Metaphors and Paradoxes of Mathematics in German Thought and Literature, 1675–1830
William C. and Ida Friday Fellowship, 2017–18
His first book, The Spirit and Its Letter: Traces of Rhetoric in Hegel’s Philosophy of Bildung, looked at the role that rhetoric played in the formation of Hegel’s thought. Methodologically the book combines the institutional history of rhetoric, hermeneutics, critical theory, and deconstruction. His next book, Dialectics of the Will: Freedom, Power, and Understanding in Modern French and German Thought, explored the viability of a dialectical concept of the will to rethink human agency after the “death of the subject.” His third book, Dialogues between Faith and Reason: The Death and Return of God in Modern German Thought, provided a broad historical survey of (mostly) German (Protestant) theologies and philosophies of religion, from Luther and Erasmus to the present, to investigate the tradition that both provided some of the most fundamental modern conceptions of God and led to his “death.” Indeed, he has shown that these two aspects of the tradition have always been in dialogue.
His present research project involves the role that notions of the infinitesimal, continuity, and the mathematical infinite have played in German thought from Leibniz through Idealism. His argument is that ideas surrounding infinity were “normalized” through a long process of fruitful cross pollenization involving philosophy, mathematics, religious poetry, and aesthetics.
- Upcoming lecture: “How Infinity Came to Be at Home in the World: The Contribution of Eighteenth-Century German Religious Poetry to a Modern Scientific and Theological Paradigm Shift.” Seminar on Religion and Writing, Columbia University, 23 January 2018.
- Smith, John H. “You Are What You Will: Kant, Schopenhauer, Facial Expression of Emotion, and Affective Computing.” German Life and Letters, Special Issue on Embodied Knowledge and/in the Age of Goethe, 70, no. 4 (2017): 466–77.
- Smith, John H. “Kant, Calculus, Consciousness, and the Mathematical Infinite in Us.” Goethe Yearbook 23, no. 1 (2016): 95–121.
- Smith, John H. “Friedrich Schlegel’s Calculus: Reflections on the Mathematical Infinite around 1800.” In The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy, edited by Dalia Nassar, 239–57. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Smith, John H. Dialogues between Faith and Reason: The Death and Return of God in Modern German Thought. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.
- Smith, John H. Dialectics of the Will: Freedom, Power, and Understanding in Modern French and German Thought. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2000.
- Smith, John H. The Spirit and Its Letter: Traces of Rhetoric in Hegel’s Philosophy of Bildung. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.