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Ethical commitment

Between optimism and disillusionment, Raymond Aron reflected on the history of Europe (a history marked by both positive developments and dramatic turns) as an "unexpected accident". He sketched a portrait of European civilization with three specific characteristics: science, history, and freedom, proposing a new framework of understanding: decline versus vitality. This study is at the heart of the philosopher's contemplation: How should one think of history as a tragedy? One must be aware of the historical condition of humanity, condemned to engage in a more or less incoherent world. However, Aron always rejected the idea that we flounder between events whose meaning is predetermined and a series of senseless incidents. The challenge is to recognize the unique moments in history where the intersection of necessity, accident, and decision can produce significantly different outcomes. Unfortunately, the only strategies that seem permissible today tend to reduce to a kind of optimization of the systems that have created the gravest problems.

In recent years, such mitigation has been focused on discussions of measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions or mitigating geological and seismic risks. In this era where even the news is distorted and people tend to misrepresent current events, historical understanding is limited to a few. Social media platforms, acting as echo chambers, amplify these falsehoods, further muddling and warping reality. After the outbreak of the pandemic, after the resurgence of a scandalous war of aggression within Europe's borders, after the reactivation of terrorist attacks and conflicts in the Middle East, mitigation now seems to aim at stigmatizing behaviors that would contribute to extending the debacle, while in reality, there is no desire to shed light on the real causes of this new barbarity, leaving the moral burden of the debacle on individual responsibility. Yet, as long as our political systems remain focused on individuals and not communities, it is clear we will not escape the impasse. If we fail to realize that we are facing a tragic humanitarian crisis, all our attempts will be vain: the messianic expectation of a miraculous solution to the problems, without the concrete commitment of each one of us, will remain dramatically futile.

In such an atmosphere, it was inevitable that among those who call themselves intellectuals, more or less belated resurgences of Sein-zum-Tode or the infamous Untergangs in which the whole world is sinking would re-emerge: a twilight which, however, will be followed by no regenerative dawn. Confronted with these resurgences, it appears that the toter Engel of our times has taken on the grotesque guise of elderly, deeply corrupt figures who claim to wield unbridled power.

What is the purpose of philological work? Is it just to provide more or less updated versions of uninteresting texts to a bored readership? If, in preparing editions and commentaries, the real intent is to mediate between the author and the reader, it is not enough to attempt to reconstruct the linguistic norms in force at the time of the composition of poetic works and the deviations from these norms that have been prodigiously realized in the texts. Nor is it sufficient to reconstruct the dialogue that has in fact been woven between the texts themselves, indicating the rhetorical or argumentative clichés related to them. It is also necessary to possess an adequate knowledge of the social, economic, and political structures that guided the activity of various authors, to identify the submerged cultures they drew upon. But above all, understanding the 'philosophies' underlying their achievements is essential. In other words, poetic texts should not be considered as diaphanous spectral existences, abstract scaffolds that refer to nothing other than the obsessions of the researcher himself.

In this deleterious climate, what can be the mission of philology, if not to scrupulously ensure that the quality of contributions presented as original research remains always above any suspicion? That is exactly what our Philological Society intends to do.

(Prof. Luciano Rossi)

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