The International School for Philosophy
The International School for Philosophy (ISFP) is a non-profit institution and center for learning, practicing and developing philosophy and philosophical attitudes towards life and the world. Located in the heart of the Netherlands on the vast ISFP estate in the woods of Leusden, near Utrecht, the school shares its site with a hotel, conference center and publishing house. The revenue from these organizations contributes towards the financing of the philosophy courses which we can therefore offer at an affordable price (usually below cost price), meaning that we are not dependent on public funds.
The International School for Philosophy (Internationale School voor Wijsbegeerte) was founded in 1916. Our founders envisaged a place where leading thinkers would come together to discuss cultural progress. Ever since, it has functioned as a centre for philosophy. Since its establishment in 1916 the ISFP has played a large role in Dutch philosophy and several international speakers have given guest lectures on the estate. These include the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, the British linguistics philosopher Sir Alfred Ayer, the German existentialist Martin Heidegger and the French educationalist Emmanuel Levinas. In recent years the ISVW was visited by the American philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Francis Fukuyama, the German thinkers Rüdiger Safranski and Peter Sloterdijk, the Australian ethicist Peter Singer, the Canadian political thinker Will Kymlicka, the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal, and the American philosopher of mind Patricia Churchland.
The aims of the ISFP, as stated in the constitution statutes that have remained largely unchanged, read as follows:
‘The institute aims to practice philosophy, (almost exclusively) without seeking a profit, and in doing so contributes to the quality of the personal and public life and the development of philosophical attitudes towards life and the world, as well as that which is directly or indirectly connected to this, or is or can be beneficial to it, all of this in the broadest possible sense and in the general interest of the public.’
The articles in the statutes do not specify how we should understand ‘philosophy’, which we therefore describe as:
the methodological and step by step thinking about all kinds of subjects, whereby the steps in the thought process are also themselves subjected to criticism. Philosophizing leads to clear distinctions, an increased understanding, a critical and questioning attitude, and therefore hopefully to more awareness and a better understanding of people for one another. This can also become an attitude towards life, which the ISFP is keen to promote. This attitude is based on knowledge of the philosophical tradition, acquaintance with philosophical skills, and a basic understanding of the sciences – because without factual knowledge, reasoning is worthless.
No topic or subject is excluded beforehand. Philosophy can (and should) be about anything, or as Reiman – the first Maecenas and cofounder of the ISFP – put it: ‘nothing is not done’ in the ISFP. All opinions and issues are welcome as long as one is prepared to critically scrutinise them; as long as one is prepared to form a more considered opinion.
In picking topics for courses and books, we judge whether they are relevant to people’s personal and public life. Applying philosophy in practice is the ISFP’s core business. We put academic philosophy into practice and test it ‘in the field’, applying philosophical knowledge from the universities to a diverse range of disciplines such as medicine and politics, as well as making philosophy accessible to people from all age groups and educational backgrounds. The ISFP remains closely connected to the academia through this ‘popular-scientific’ approach.
We believe people should reflect on their own life and the world they inhabit. They should shape their own lives. The ISFP tries to achieve this through personal development, gaining knowledge and acquiring skills. Within our school we train students to listen and keep an open mind. They should be able to discuss arguments, postpone judgements, organize thoughts, listen well, ask the right questions, clarify concepts and develop accurate theories. They are not only there to acquire knowledge, but also to develop philosophical skills and a philosophical attitude.
By practicing philosophy we work towards tolerance between different (cultural) groups: when values clash, we need to seek out a general agreement. It is up to the philosopher to seek correct ways of thinking and point out pitfalls to others along the way. In doing so, the philosopher supports a society in which people develop and think for themselves – a society in which people shape their own lives.
The ISFP does not want to compete with other philosophical organizations. By working with others the ISFP can still achieve their aims: to practice philosophy, contribute to the quality of the personal and public life and develop philosophical attitudes towards life and the world. The school achieves these aims by organizing a variety of philosophical courses, the publishing house does so by publishing philosophical books, iFilosofie (our online book review magazine), and other products.
The school organizes a variety of philosophical courses on our estate, trainings and events, preferably over the course of multiple days. The courses we typically offer are:
• Philosophy weeks and summer schools
These are our traditional courses, a five-day program planned during the holidays. One or more teachers offer their insights into a specific (topical) subject or the works of a great thinker, often times combining philosophical and scientific knowledge. Strong interaction between teacher and student makes for active discussions and helps students develop their philosophical skills.
• Philosophy weekends and local courses
The ISFP also organizes shorter weekend courses and local courses in the country’s larger cities. These ‘ISFP in the country’ courses are a series of (often two-day) courses during the day or in the evening and spread out over a number of weeks.
• Elementary courses
We also offer comprehensive courses in which a topic is explored more in depth to provide a complete overview and detailed understanding of the subject matter. These courses are spread out over five weekends, which can optionally be attended separately. In addition, some of these courses also offer a final exam and certificate of participation to end the program with.
• Training courses and sessions for professionals
We also organize courses for professionals. These offer a deeper understanding of the specific discipline people work in by familiarizing students with philosophical insights into everyday concepts and training them in philosophical skills and attitudes that they can apply to their current or future work. The courses are two-day trainings over a series of three to ten meetings and provide the students with a certificate of participation. The sessions are singular two-day trainings.
The publishing house
We established the ISFP publishing house in 2011 with the aim to get our practical and ‘popular-scientific’ philosophy across in different formats and to larger audiences. Both the courses and our books intend to make academic philosophy accessible and show how philosophy can be applied in practice. We therefore strive to make courses and books fit together, for example by discussing similar topics and subject material. A book can be written by the teacher of a proven course, or courses can be inspired by an author’s work. We therefore publish books with similar themes as our courses, such as eastern and western ‘way of life’ thinking, practical ethics, philosophy of religion, of law and of education, political philosophy, philosophy for professionals, etc.
Friends of the ISFP
Shortly after the ISFP was founded, some of its students established an association for the preservation of the IFSP institution: Friends of the ISFP (Vrienden van de ISVW). They aim to support the ISFP’s philosophical activities, both by being ambassadors of the institute and by supporting the ISFP financially. The Friends play a large role in promoting the ISFP and also organize their own small activities. The Friends are run by a board of members, which regularly meets with the ISFP director and board.