Public debate

Michaël Foessel

We talk a lot about "living-together", I prefer to approach it more concretely, based on the emotional experiences we share.

Known as a thinker on the Enlightenment and modernity, Michaël Fœssel feeds public discourse with his philosophical essays on unusual subjects. From intimacy to night-time, he spots politics in unexpected places.

Updated on 21/02/2019

2 min

Michaël Fœssel showed an early need for intellectual independence which prompted him to return home to Alsace after a stifling “hypokhâgne” preparatory year at the prestigious and selective Lycée Henry-IV in Paris. He then went on to pursue a brilliant, more-traditional educational career, from studies at the École Normale Supérieure to obtaining a license to direct scientific research in 2013, before replacing Alain Finkelkraut as Professor of Philosophy at the École Polytechnique at the age of just 38.

At once well established in the media world – he is part of management at Esprit magazine – and critical of the elite, Michaël Fœssel says he wants to teach tomorrow’s leaders to question their actions, something he practises himself in his research.


A Kant specialist, Michael Fœssel uses the German philosopher to respond to the problems posed by modernity. With The Deprivation of the Intimate (“La Privation de l'intime”) (2008), the philosopher takes an interest in a subject rarely mentioned by intellectuals, and asserts the political nature of the intimate, all too often confused, in our modern democracies, with the economic notion of the “private”.

In 2012, he published another work: After the End of the World (“Après la fin du monde”), an essay on contemporary pessimism and the rejection of a present emptied of meaning by the imminence of the end, followed by The Time of Solace (“Le Temps de la consolation”) (2015) where he turns genealogy into ways of overcoming loss.

Deeply European, and proudly so, Michaël Fœssel has made plenty of round trips between France and Germany since his first visit to Berlin at the age of 14, one year before the fall of the Wall.

The Alsatian philosopher, whose two parents are German teachers, reiterates, in The Night, Living without Witnes (“La Nuit, vivre sans témoin”) (2017), his fascination with the German capital. He demonstrates how Berlin evenings, spared from the “museumification” of a city like Paris, destroy hierarchies and create new possibilities. This way of finding politics in a place to which he has personal ties illustrates the vision of an author who refrains from reducing cosmopolitanism to either economic globalisation or mere constitutional citizenship.

  • 2002


    Michaël Fœssel defends his PhD thesis, “L’équivoque du monde. L’instance cosmologique dans la philosophie critique de Kant” (“The equivocal of the world. The cosmological instance in the critical philosophy of Kant”) at Rouen University.

  • 2004


    Michaël Fœssel becomes an assistant professor at the University of Burgundy.

  • 2008


    The Deprivation of the Intimate is popular with readers and critics, receiving the “Prix Strassart” from the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences.

  • 2015


    With The Time of Solace, the philosopher continues to reflect on modernity and reclaims the notion of consolation, dear to our ancestors.

  • 2017


    The Night, Living without Witness illustrates a way of thinking that restores the importance of opacity and unpredictability.

The Institut français and the author.

Michaël Foessel is part of “New French Intellectual Arenas” supported by the Institut français. He spoke notably as part of the Nuit des idées organised on 25th January 2018 around the theme "Power to imagination".

L'institut français, LAB