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The Philosophy of Angels

Lecturer: Nina Power

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 2 2021

For He hath given His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways
Psalm 90

Angels are messengers, protectors and bureaucrats, amongst many other things. They have no biological bodies but are not always entirely incorporeal either. It is unclear how they speak – Aquinas suggests they use ‘interior speech’ – and they do not reason (again, according to Aquinas). The angel is a reminder of hierarchy, of signs, of communication. They feature in multiple myths and all major religions.

The angel does the dirty work, often standing in the wreckage. In our age of hyper-communication, earthly destruction and techno-scientific domination, what role is there for angels? This course will examine the philosophy of angels from multiple angles: historical, theological, semiological, epistemological, political and poetical. We will seek to understand many angels, good and bad, the better to comprehend what, in our age, is sacred and what is not.

Week 1: Why Angels, Why Now?

Giorgio Agamben, ‘§ 6 Angelology and Bureaucracy’, The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government (Homo Sacer II, 2), translated by Lorenzo Chiesa with Matteo Mandarini (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011 [2007]), pp. 144-166

Film: A Matter of Life and Death (Powell & Pressburger, 1946)

Week 2: The Order of Angels

Erik Peterson, ‘The Book on the Angels: Their Place and Meaning in the Liturgy’

Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite, ‘The Celestial Hierarchy’ (5th century AD)

Week 3: Demonstrating Angels

Saint Augustine, Exposition on the Psalms (selection), (completed AD 418)

Peter King, ‘Augustine and Anselm on Angelic Sin’, A Companion to Angels in Medieval Philosophy, ed. Tobias Hoffmann (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 261-281

Thomas Aquinas, On Spiritual Creatures (De Spiritualibus Creaturis), c. 1266-1269

Gregory T. Doolan, ‘Aquinas on the Demonstrability of Angels’, A Companion to Angels in Medieval Philosophy, ed. Tobias Hoffmann (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 13-44

Week 4: Angels and the Occult

Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: Routledge, 1979)

Chapter 5 ‘The Occult Philosophy and Magic: Henry Cornelius Agrippa’

Chapter 8 ‘John Dee: Christian Cabbalist’

Christopher I Lehrich, The Language of Demons and Angels: Cornelius Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy

Chapter 4 ‘The Language of Demons and Angels’, pp. 147-206

Week 5: Angels and Islam

Henry Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy (extracts, tba)

Tom Cheetham, All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (Berkeley, North Atlantic Books, 2012), Chapter 3, pp.

Week 6: Angels and Modernity

Michel Serres, Angels: A Modern Myth, translated by Francis Cowper (Paris, New York : Flammarion, 1995 [1993])

Week 7: Angels and Knowing

Gregory Bateson & Mary Catherine Bateson, Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred (New York, Bantam, 1987), Chapter 7 and extracts (tba)

Week 8: Angels and History

Walter Benjamin, ‘On the Concept of History’

Michael Löwy ‘Religion, Utopia and Counter-modernity: The Allegory of the Angel of History in Walter Benjamin’, Social Compass 36(1) (1989), pp. 95-104

Stéphane Mosès, The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem, translated by Barbara Harshav (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009 [1992]), ‘The Angel of History’ (Chapter 6).

Week 9: Angels and Politics

Massimo Cacciari, The Necessary Angel, translated by Miguel E. Vatter (New York: SUNY, 1994)

Guy Ladreau, ‘Lin Piao as World and Representation’, translated by Barnett R. Rubin, Chicago Review, Vol. 32, No. 3, The French New Philosophers (Winter, 1981), pp. 48-57

Peter Hallward, ‘Fallen Angel: Guy Lardreau’s Later Voluntarism’, Radical Philosophy, 2.03 (December 2018)

Week 10: Angels and the General Intellect

Paolo Virno, ‘Angels and the General Intellect: Individuation in Duns Scotus and Gilbert Simondon’, Parrhesia, No 7 (2009), pp. 58-67

Week 11: Satan and Violence

René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, translated by James G. Williams (New York: Orbis Books, 2001 [1999]), Part 1, Chapters 1-3

Week 12: Angelicism, Extinction and the Internet

Selected writings from angelicism01

Contemporary reflection on angels by the class