Wolfgang Leidhold is professor of Political Science at the University of Cologne (Germany).

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A journey from Dortmund to

The humanistic Grammar School in Dortmund, established in 1543, laid the foundation for his academic career. Plato’s dialogues and Cicero’s philosophy made a lasting impact. His professor of ancient Greek initiated his first research essay “An exposition of the philosophy of Confucius”. His first publication appeared in 1966, a one-page meditation on the (im)possibility of experiencing “nothing.”

Bochum, Stanford & Erlangen

In 1975, he completed his MA with a thesis on “Myth and Method in René Descartes”. After studies at Stanford University, CA, he earned his doctorate with a thesis on “Ethics and Politics in Francis Hutcheson” at the University of Bochum in 1982. He edited Hutcheson’s “Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue” of 1726 in a new edition published in 2004.

Starting from the study of this Scottish philosopher and the history of empiricism in general, continuing through Kant to William James, Henri Bergson, C. G. Jung, Eric Voegelin, Ronald D. Laing and others, he advanced his theory of experience and its history. From 1978 to 1992 he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Erlangen, teaching political philosophy, history of ideas and international relations.

via Georgetown, Hawaii & the South Pacific

During the mid-80s, he worked as a research fellow at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He then focused on international relations and visited the Pacific Island Region, New Zealand and Australia. The Thyssen Foundation (Cologne) funded the project, resulting in a book on “Security Issues in the Pacific Island Region”. Again, experience became a key issue because small island states and micronations experience the security situation in a very different way than great powers and large territorial states.

to Cologne

In 1992, he became full professor at the University of Cologne. Since then, his focus has been on political theory and history of ideas. Aside from numerous other research projects, he initiated and designed ILIAS, an open-source online learning platform that enjoys worldwide distribution. His theoretical works cover topics from Antiquity, the Renaissance, Western modernity, and contemporary issues such as communications and religion. The study of experience is the major focus in his research and publications.

He presented an outline of his theory of experience and a first look at experiential history in two books. First the “Political Philosophy” of 2002 and second a study on spiritual experience titled “God’s Presence” published in 2008 (both in German). The Festschrift on “Experience” (2021) illustrates the international impact of his ideas.

Most recent

His most recent publication is a book on The History of Experience (published by Taylor & Francis in 2023). This study presents his theory of experience, the history of change in the structure of experience, and its influence on the evolution of cultures in a broad sweep from the Paleolithic to the present. An overview can be found on the following pages, starting with the “Summary”.

Ecology and experience

In his current projects, Leidhold investigates the relationship between ecology and experience, as well as the development of an ecological ethos. When the structure of experience changes, new institutions and cultures emerge, and with them the relationship between humans and the environment changes. The relationship between humans and the environment depends not only on the material component of culture (technology, economy), but also on its spiritual component, the ethos. The ethos means both the place where a living being (human, animal, plant) usually lives, that is, its “oikos”, as well as the spiritual attitude that inspires its activities here.

Ecology and ethos

The mental attitude is an ensemble of values, norms and rules, myth and history, ethics and morals, philosophical, religious and political ideas and ideologies. The ethos determines the relationship not only to human life-worlds, but to the cosmos as a whole, to the planetary biosphere and to the transhuman noosphere. Despite all variations in political, economic, and technological terms, from the era of prophetic religions to modern times, cultures have been dominated by an anthropocentric ethos. This dominance defines the epoch of the Anthropocene. Leidhold therefore points out that a sustainable response to the ecological challenges of our time will only succeed if a transhuman ecological ethos replaces the current anthropocentric ethos.
An essay on the topic will be published shortly.