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Failure in the History of Thought

About the Lecture

In our time, we wish each other ‘success’ every day. How so? Why did ‘success’ become such a defining value of our age? In this guest lecture, Daan van Schalkwijk points out the historical roots of the notion of success in western thought.


In his work ‘Roots and Liberty’ Spanish philosopher, Leonardo Polo contrasts the modern, classical and Christian conception of the human being, identifying what is seen as the ‘root’ of humanity in each tradition. Polo especially applies it to understanding the different conceptions of freedom. Here, the guest lecturer draws on some of the core insights in this work, and applies them to the question of human fulfillment. This allows the guest lecturer to point out both the ‘root’ of the notion of success, and provide critical context to evaluate against this notion.


While these reflections are academically interesting, they are also existentially important. Mental health problems that arise from a too one-sided focus on success are a good example of an excess that needs attention. Without denying the strengths of modernity, recovering ancient wisdom is a practical antidote to some of the problems we face.

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