PHI 422/622 20th Century French and German Philosophy


Course Syllabus

Linda Martín Alcoff Fall 2004
Office: 523 Hall of Languages
Phone: 443-2519
Office Hours: Mondays 4:30-6 and by appointment

Course Objectives:

This course will cover two of the most important philosophical trends in contemporary continental European philosophy: Critical Theory (otherwise known as the Frankfurt School) and Post-structuralism. Both of these schools of thought share the belief that the liberal, secular, humanist Enlightenment philosophy of the 18th century (the dominant Western world-view today) is deeply flawed, especially its core assumptions concerning the nature of the self, agency, human nature, and knowledge. Both also offered innovative analyses of mass culture, the effects of technology on society, the nature of oppression, and the possibilities of progress. Where post-structuralists and critical theorists differ with each other is over the question of whether Enlightenment ideas of individualism, humanism, and universal truth can be revised and salvaged or must be rejected.

Course Requirements:

Each student is required to attend class prepared to discuss the day's reading. Students must also bring prepared questions on the readings to class each Wednesday starting September 8: either questions of understanding and interpretation or questions for evaluating the persuasiveness of the arguments (or both). I will collect these questions in class.

There will be three take home essays required, spaced throughout the term. I will give out a list of questions based on the readings and class discussions, and you will choose one of these as an essay topic. These essays should be about 5 typed pages each.

Required Books:

The following books are available at the Orange Bookstore. There is also a Course Reader at the Campus Copy Center in Marshall Square Mall that you are required to purchase.

1. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment.

2. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations.

3. Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation.

4. Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus.

5. Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman.

6. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition.

7. Paul Rabinow, editor, The Foucault Reader

Course Schedule

Aug. 30, Sept. 1: Introduction to the course; theoretical backgrounds.

I. Critical Theory

Topics: instrumental reason, Enlightenment versus myth, domination of nature;

Sept 8:
Dialectic Of Enlightenment, pp. ix-xvii and “The Concept of Enlightenment” pp. 3-42.

Sept. 13, 15
Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory” (Course Reader); Benjamin, “Theses on Philosophy of History”

Topics: culture, ideology

Sept. 20, 22: Adorno and Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry”; Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”;

Sept. 27, 29: Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (Course Reader);

Topics: new solutions

Oct. 4:
Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation; Habermas, “Technology and Science as ‘Ideology’” (Course Reader)


First essay assignment: handed out Oct. 4, due October 11

Oct. 11, 13:
Habermas “What is Universal Pragmatics?” (Course Reader) and two interviews: “Conservatism and Capitalist Crisis” and “Conservative Politics, Work, Socialism and Utopia Today” (Course Reader)

II. Post-Structuralism

Topics: truth, interpretation, humanism

Oct. 18, 20: Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” (Course Reader)

Oct. 25, 27: Heidegger,“Letter on Humanism” and “Essence of Truth” (Course Reader)

Topics: Cartesian alienation, being-in-the-world, “Man”

Nov. 1, 3: Derrida “The Ends of Man” and “Differance” (Course Reader)

Topics: discourse, power/knowledge, subjectivity

Nov. 8, 10: Foucault, pp. 51-75, 169-213, 291-330 in The Foucault Reader, and “The Subject and Power” (Course Reader)

Second essay assignment given November 8 and due November 15

Topics: psychoanalysis, possible sources of resistance, masculine subjectivity

Nov. 15, 17: Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, preface, Introduction, pp. 1-153, 273-283 (don’t skip preface, introduction, 1-9, 51-56, 139-153, 273-283)

Nov. 22: Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, pp. 11-24, 133-146, 180-190; Optional: pp. 152-167, 243-255, 319-329, 353-364

III. The debate

Topics: Modernism versus post-modernism or two critiques of modernism?

Nov. 29, Dec. 1, 6:
Habermas, “An Alternative Way out of the Philosophy of the Subject: Communicative versus Subject-Centered Reason” and “The Normative Content of Modernity” both from The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. (Course Reader)
Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition

Dec. 8: Conclusion

Third essay assignment given on December 8, and due December 15.