Philosophy Between The Lines: The Lost History Of Esoteric Writing

Paperback | February 22, 2017

byArthur M. Melzer

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Philosophical esotericism—the practice of communicating one’s unorthodox thoughts “between the lines”—was a common practice until the end of the eighteenth century. The famous Encyclopédie of Diderot, for instance, not only discusses this practice in over twenty different articles, but admits to employing it itself. The history of Western thought contains hundreds of such statements by major philosophers testifying to the use of esoteric writing in their own work or others’. Despite this long and well-documented history, however, esotericism is often dismissed today as a rare occurrence. But by ignoring esotericism, we risk cutting ourselves off from a full understanding of Western philosophical thought.
           
Arthur M. Melzer serves as our deeply knowledgeable guide in this capacious and engaging history of philosophical esotericism. Walking readers through both an ancient (Plato) and a modern (Machiavelli) esoteric work, he explains what esotericism is—and is not. It relies not on secret codes, but simply on a more intensive use of familiar rhetorical techniques like metaphor, irony, and insinuation. Melzer explores the various motives that led thinkers in different times and places to engage in this strange practice, while also exploring the motives that lead more recent thinkers not only to dislike and avoid this practice but to deny its very existence. In the book’s final section, “A Beginner’s Guide to Esoteric Reading,” Melzer turns to how we might once again cultivate the long-forgotten art of reading esoteric works.

Philosophy Between the Lines is the first comprehensive, book-length study of the history and theoretical basis of philosophical esotericism, and it provides a crucial guide to how many major writings—philosophical, but also theological, political, and literary—were composed prior to the nineteenth century.

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Philosophical esotericism—the practice of communicating one’s unorthodox thoughts “between the lines”—was a common practice until the end of the eighteenth century. The famous Encyclopédie of Diderot, for instance, not only discusses this practice in over twenty different articles, but admits to employing it itself. The history of West...

Arthur M. Melzer is professor of political science at Michigan State University, where he is also cofounder and codirector of the Symposium on Science, Reason, and Modern Democracy. He is the author of The Natural Goodness of Man.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:471 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.4 inPublished:February 22, 2017Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022647917X

ISBN - 13:9780226479170

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: What Is Philosophical Esotericism?

Part One
The General Evidence and Argument for the Reality of Philosophical Esotericism
1. The Testimonial Evidence for Esotericism
2. Interlude: Two Brief Examples
3. The Theoretical Basis of Philosophical Esotericism: The “Problem of Theory and Praxis”
4. Objections, Resistance, and Blindness to Esotericism

Part Two
The Four Forms of Philosophical Esotericism
5. Fear of Persecution: Defensive Esotericism
6. Dangerous Truths: Protective Esotericism
7. The Educational Benefits of Obscurity: Pedagogical Esotericism
8. Rationalizing the World: Political Esotericism

Part Three
The Consequences of the Recovery of Esotericism
9. A Beginner’s Guide to Esoteric Reading
10. Defending Reason: Esotericism and the Critique of Historicism

Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Melzer’s book is a masterful treatment of the ‘lost’ history of esoteric writing from Socrates to the present day. Before reading Philosophy Between the Lines, I myself was not well-disposed toward the practice of esoteric reading. However, this book has convinced me that any attempt to read the history of philosophy without being willing to pry into the author’s ‘secret intentions’ would be a naive and ill-conceived enterprise. . . . [This is] an impressive work of scholarship, and it deserves to be pondered by anyone with a serious interest in philosophical texts.”