The Genie out of the Bottle

Philosophy is not confined to intellectual discussion; it is found in architecture, graffiti, advertising and pop music. With that as his starting point, Ger Groot has written a cultural history and guide, with Western philosophy in prime position. Both popular and highbrow art, culture, paintings, novels and music are as important to his panoramic survey as are the classical treatises of the philosophical canon.

Ger Groot
Original title
De geest uit de fles

The central question is what happens when God ceases to be the anchor of our existence. Since René Descartes, human beings have had to decide for themselves what kind of creatures they are. Take the discovery of perspective in painting: instead of depicting the world through the eyes of an all-seeing God, painters began to find ways of expressing the human point of view. Groot argues that modern self-awareness, as articulated by Locke, Rousseau, Schopenhauer and Heidegger, is as likely to be found in the music of Bach and Stravinsky, as it is in black metal, ‘Monty Python’ and films by Ingmar Bergman. His book is illustrated; audio chips and other supplementary material can be found on

Ger Groot used to lecture on modern philosophy to first-year students, which explains his ability to explain complex theories clearly, yet without sacrificing nuance. The search for new solid ground after ‘the death of God’ remains challenging. ‘Profound uncertainty has taken hold of us about our place and destination in reality, and therefore about the nature, purpose and intelligibility of that reality,’ Groot writes. His history of ideas and culture is an important source of insight in that uncertainty, especially in its exploration of our capacities and limitations as human beings.

This introduction to modern Western philosophy by Ger Groot is a feast of recognition and clarity. He switches effortlessly between difficult thinkers and popular culture. Groot places his own stamp on the material under discussion, continually surprising the reader, and he is admirably clear, managing to present difficult thinkers in ways that help us to understand them.

De Volkskrant

In his introduction to modern philosophy Ger Groot refuses to distinguish between high and low culture. His unifying theme is God’s departure from the stage.

NRC Handelsblad
Ger Groot
Ger Groot (b. 1954) is Associate Professor of Philosophical Anthropology at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, known for his lucid contributions to public debate and his astute reviews of recent philosophical and literary works.
Part ofNon-Fiction
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