Twentieth Century European Philosophy

This course is a study of major philosophers and philosophical movements centered in France and Germany from (approximately) 1900 to the present. The main thought tendencies or movements studied are Bergsonianism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Structuralism/Hermeneutics, Critical Theory, PostStructuralism/Deconstruction, Post-Modernism. We will conclude with an examination of Emmanuel Levinas’s attempt to evade “the violence inherent in knowledge” through elucidation of a relation to “the other” that  cannot be totally captured, distorted, or concealed by concepts that apply to the world of “ordinary” cognitive consciousness. Our aim is to understand the major theses and conceptualizations in this range of philosophical work, and to consider their development and the most significant lines of justification presented for them. Our aim is to work from primary sources in translation as much as possible, with only occasional use of secondary sources.

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Twentieth Century European Philosophy

This course is a study of major philosophers and philosophical movements centered in France and Germany from (approximately) 1900 to the present. The main thought tendencies or movements studied are Bergsonianism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Structuralism/Hermeneutics, Critical Theory, PostStructuralism/Deconstruction, Post-Modernism. We will conclude with an examination of Emmanuel Levinas’s attempt to evade “the violence inherent in knowledge” through elucidation of a relation to “the other” that  cannot be totally captured, distorted, or concealed by concepts that apply to the world of “ordinary” cognitive consciousness. Our aim is to understand the major theses and conceptualizations in this range of philosophical work, and to consider their development and the most significant lines of justification presented for them. Our aim is to work from primary sources in translation as much as possible, with only occasional use of secondary sources.

The basic idea of 20th Century European Philosophy is that human experience or “consciousness,” and its basic types, can, to a significant extent, be detected, brought before the mind, and characterized in their essence.  A motivating force back of the drive to accurately characterize “consciousness” was the wide spread conviction that it had been wrongly characterized by Modern Philosophy from Descartes to the 20th Century. This “drive” completely dominates 20th Century European Philosophy from Bergson and Husserl to Levinas.

 

Topics include:
  • Epistemological realism as the philosophical issue around 1900. (G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, American “New Realism.”)
  • How there came to be something called “European Philosophy” and what its main characteristics are. An overview of its development.
  • Husserl’s effort to describe “consciousness” or “mental acts” in such a way that “Realism” is possible and actual.
  • Husserl’s account of how the mind grasps an object that is not a part of it. The “enigma” of “transcendence.” On seeing the essences of types of consciousness.
  • Husserl on “the natural standpoint” and its “suspension” in phenomenological description.
  • Husserl’s vision of how “Naturalism” threatens to destroy “European Humanity.” The Existentialist shock!  When “science” fails humanity. Then what?
  • Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Ortega, Rilke, Kafka.
  • The realm of the “Thou.”
  • Heidegger and Being in terms of Time. Dasein: “There Being.” “Nothing” is what?
  • Sartre, “The Wall” and Self-Deception.
  • Why Existentialism is a form of Humanism, and the Myth of Sisyphus (Camus).
  • The “ego” as not “real,” a “construction” in terms of “Intentionality.”
  • The Emergence of “Hermeneutics” from the rejection of pure phenomenological insight and the “situatedness” of all human consciousness. Gadamer and Ricoeur.
  • “Enlightenment” and “Critical Theory.” Critical Theory and Structuralism.
  • “Structuralism” and the flight from “human Existenz.” De Saussure.
  • The interesting case of Michel Foucault
  • Derrida, “Deconstruction” and the radical critique of Husserl’s “Wesenschau.”
  • The Phenomenology of “absence.”
  • “Naming” and “Predication” as Violence—a critical evaluation.
  • Levinas and the “ethical” as “beyond” the violence of “predication.”
  • “The face,” the “Outside” and Infinity as opposed to Totality.
  • Postmodernism as a theory of the essence of consciousness and knowledge—“phenomenological” continuities and discontinuities.
  • Lyotard and Richard Rorty.
  • The philosophical assumptions of “Postmodernism,” as a social condition and as a theory of knowledge. The triumph of “essence” and Husserl’s revenge. Knowledge as a social ferment. “Instabilities.”

 

TEXTS:
  1. Kearney and Rainwater, The Continental Philosophy Reader.
  2. Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics.
  3. Husserl, The Idea of Phenomenology, Alston translation.
  4. Kaufman, Existentialism from Doestoevsky to Sartre.
  5. Buber, I and Thou, Kaufmann translation.
  6. Geuss, The Idea of Critical Theory.
  7. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
  8. Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego.
  9. Levinas, Outside the Subject.

    {Two recommended secondary sources (not “required”): 
        Kearney, Richard, Modern Movements in European Philosophy. Protevi, John, A Dictionary of Continental Philosophy.}
 

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