Fin de siècle is a term I've encountered in poetry, usually in reference to the approach of modernism. Oscar Wilde, e.g., as well as in contemporary poets and theorists, anticipating something new, an era's end.

Does the same term or notion exist in philosophy? There are soi disant revolutions, so you'd suspect that something analogous could exist.

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    If the phrase is being interpreted as changing to a new era then Kant is the example that jumps to my mind. In terms of periods of western philosophy he is seen as the defining moment of moving from medieval to modern philosophy. DesCartes was among if not the first to make the move towards modern philosophy but Kant was the moment that medieval philosophy was finished.
    – Not_Here
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:10
  • @Not_Here well, i mean pre "revolution"
    – user25714
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:14
  • Right I understand what you mean, in that case look at everyone between DesCartes and Kant for that example. My understanding of that phrase is that it doesn't only mean the end of an era but it also means the beginning of the new era, as in both of them juxtaposed.
    – Not_Here
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:16
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    Can't speak to the formal concept itself, but accerlerationists and singularity pushers like Kurzweil certainly fit the bill. So do various philosophers pushing the concept of an Anthropocene epcoh - although they are working not on the level of centuries but of geological epochs. Jul 26, 2017 at 16:34
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    @idiotan both groups speak of a paradigm shift for humanity as a whole - so "fin de siècle" is on a smaller scale than what they are thinking on - but their basic premise "We are predicting the end of this socio-cultural paradigm and the emergence of the next". One could argue that "fin de siècle" authors were too limited, unable to think in terms of more than one century at a time, but the essence of their idea was the same. Jul 26, 2017 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


Philosophical movements, political movements & artistic movements tend to go hand in hand and follow the same swing of the meta-cultural pendulum between emotion-driven and reason-driven, and between hope and despair.

I'm not sure what you refer to as "fin de siècle moments", but the late 19th and early 20th century were generally marked by culture pessimism. In art, this translated to eg. the Romanticist movement that longed back with nostalgia to the pre-Industrial age and of which Edgar Allen Poe is one of the most famous representatives.

In the political arena, explicitly anti-modernist political movements like the conservative revolutionary movement had spawned along with various flavors of Ludditism.

Meanwhile, sociologists like Oswald Spengler, Lothrop Stoddard and Max Nordau had made their mark arguing that Western civilization was accelerating towards impending doom, the traditionalist school made an effort to revive lost wisdom and the existentialist school of philosophers had come to the conclusion that the universe is inherently absurd and meaningless.

All these movements are correlated in the sense that they all share a same sense of emptiness, which is typically attributed to the industrialization and consumerization of society around the end of the 19th century!

  • good answer, but i was thinking more about philosophical ends, rather than the social phenomena in general.
    – user25714
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:29
  • Could you be more specific? What you you mean with "philosophical ends"? Jul 26, 2017 at 12:30
  • well i don't have an example (ergo the question), so providing further sufficient clarity may be impossible. i'm drawing analogy between fin de siecle in literature, and asking what has been classed that way. but, not as a sociological question
    – user25714
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:31
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    There's not a single "fin de siècle" movement, if that's what you're asking for. As movements, I consider "existentialism", the "conservative revolutionary movement" & the "traditionalist school" the three schools of thought that best represented the ennui, cynicism, pessimism, and "widespread belief that civilization leads to decadence" that Wikiedia describes as the "spirit" of fin de siècle Jul 26, 2017 at 12:38

Yes, this term applies to philosophy. I think we would put Nietzsche in this category. Had he read Baudelaire? Probably, but it doesn't make any difference if he did or not, it was in the air, so to speak. Kant could be a candidate too, in the century prior, and not just Kant but the other early German idealists. Let's not forget Voltaire either, and maybe we could stretch a bit and even include Diederot as 18th century fin de siecle due to his late works. Now back to Nietzsche, we see him straddle the romantic and the modern. The key to the modern is that it stripped away all mediocrity and pretense. Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'avignon (1907), Schoenberg's early musical works: both shocking for the time, all pretense and fluff are torn away in these works. Had they read Nietzsche before they produced these works? Maybe Schoenberg had, but again it was in the air. And of course in science too around the turn of the century and afterward began to be extremely productive. So I think I think this concept is not just the "very end" of a century, as I'm sure you know. I should also note that it took a while for Nietzsche's books to be known, and for them to be translated and so on. And how could I forget Frege? Also, even though the neo-Kantian professors began to peter out, their students began to cut their teeth then and to forge new ways, so much was happening, and I'm sure if we looked back further we would find this happening with other philosophers in prior centuries. By the way, I take for granted fin de siecle means end of century, but it just so happens that new eras often emerge as things heat up toward the end of one century and they carry on into a new one.

  • thanks for the answer, and edits etc. it needn't mean "end of century" that's its etymology etc. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fin_de_siecle
    – user25714
    Jul 26, 2017 at 17:34
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    Thanks you. I don't doubt you are absolutely correct, but it's the way it stuck in my mind when I first learned it (the literal meaning) some time ago, and so there it sticks. Ha! and the edits, what can I say, I need to get up to speed.
    – Gordon
    Jul 26, 2017 at 17:55

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