Program Philosophy of Humanity and Culture

The Philosophy of Humanity and Culture Master’s track comprises 60 ECTS and is structured as follows:

  • 7 track-specific courses of 3 ECTS each (21 ECTS in total)
  • 3 joint courses of 6 ECTS each (18 ECTS in total))
  • 1 or 2 electives (6 ECTS in total)
  • a Master’s thesis (15 ECTS in total)

The program consists of a fall semester and a spring semester. You can start on it at the end of August or at the end of January.

More information on the program and the courses is available from August 1st in the online Study Guide.

Track-specific courses

Philosophy and Art after the War

Nothing would be more controversial than art and war: art is mainly about the durability of the world, whereas  war is directed towards the destruction of it. As Heidegger and Arendt elaborate in their works, world has several meanings; it is where we cohabit with others, found institutions and construct its concrete facet in different forms of art and architecture; it is a durable space for past and future generations. War, on the other side, destroys and is a threat to human life on all those levels, as it is one of the major forms of violence. Although both art and war are as old as human history, the lectures will focus particularly on 20th century wars and on contemporary art. We will investigate the tension between art and war and how this tension influences both philosophical discourse and art forms.

In order to follow the philosophical discourse and mutual transformation between world, war and art, we will first focus on the notion of “world” and “durability,” and we will examine different forms of “violence” including “war, displacement and terror.” After this introduction in the first two weeks, we will examine and interpret the topic on selected examples of different art forms written and produced by artists and philosophers. Our main questions will be how some extreme experiences, such as war, can influence philosophy and artistic production and how those different transpositions help us in witnessing the events of our common world.

Masters of Suspicion: Freud, Lacan and Žižek

Although not a philosopher, the work of Sigmund Freud caused an earthquake in Western philosophy. If there’s one thing that we should be suspicious of, it is the subject as conceived of in modern philosophy. The subject is not what you think it is. This, in a nutshell, is the all disruptive message of Freud on threshold of the twentieth century. During the course we will study psychoanalysis not that much as a therapeutic strategy, but as a tool to deconstruct discourse on truth and to reframe experience. We will focus on three thinkers who destructed the modern idea of the ego: Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Slavoj Žižek.

Freud was the first to lay stress on the subject as a narrative being. The subject speaks, but the meaning of the words is not the meaning that he himself attributes to. Instead, the subject uses language not to reveal truth but to conceal it. In the work of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, this is the leading thought. The unconscious is structured like a language. Farewell to the principle of non-contradiction and to formal logic as the structure of truth. We will study Jacques Derrida’s idea of deconstruction as a postmodern impact of psychoanalysis in contemporary philosophy. The course will start with the origins of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of dreams, trauma theories of hysteria, their apparent replacement by developmental models of sexuality, the theory of repetition-compulsion, the death drive and Freud’s associated analysis of the aesthetics of the Uncanny. Specific concepts to be examined include language and narrativity, desire, trauma and repression, phantasy and the unconscious, the pleasure principle and the death drive. We will look at some very basic theoretical concepts of Lacan and Slavoj Žižek, such as the three registers of “The Imaginary, The Symbolic and The Real” which Lacan considered to be major re-readings of Freud’s basic tenets. We will discuss Derrida’s interpretation of Freud and Žižek’s use of Lacan.

Philosophy, Tragedy and Comedy: Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy

Philosophers reflecting on humanity, art and culture often turn to (Greek) tragedy to discuss the moral significance of emotions and conflict (Aristotle; Nussbaum), the nature and development of human civilization (Schiller, Hegel) and the meaning or absurdity of life (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche). But no one went as far as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who in his enigmatic and polemic debut book The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872) claimed that Greek tragedy had to be rejuvenated in order to save European culture and that art was life’s metaphysical purpose.

In this course, we reconstruct Nietzsche’s aesthetics and philosophy of culture by way of careful analysis of The Birth of Tragedy. This will be the onset for broader philosophical reflection on the meaning of art for human life and culture and the stakes of a humanities education for contemporary society.

Identity, Race, and Gender

Facebook has recently introduced dozens of options for users to identify their gender. The list of options goes from “Agender” to “Two-Spirit.” Most countries, on the other hand, issue passports and IDs that sort out people according to either “Male” or “Female.” Many countries have introduced several options for citizens, lobaliza, and job seekers to identify their race. The Brazilian census, for example, gives respondents five options to identify one’s “colour or race”: “Branca,” “Preta,” “Parda,” “Amarela,” and “Indigena.” The Dutch Central Agency for Statistics (CBS), on the other hand, classifies the population in the Netherlands as either “Allochtoon” or “Autochtoon.” These classification schemes play pervasive roles in people’s social lives. Though the social meanings of “race” and “gender” vary across time and places, race and gender are incredibly important determinants of one’s prospects in life. They influence one’s social relationships, as well as the likelihood of getting a quality education and job, access to healthcare, adequate housing, and being incarcerated.

This pervasive influence people’s life suggests that race and gender are real things. But if race and gender are real, what kinds of things are they? Is their reality grounded in biology? Is it the result of social norms, institutions and cultural practices? Are the concepts of “Male” and “Black” more similar to the concept of “doctor” or are they more similar to the concept of “water”? Are they socially constructed? And what is the point of saying that something like race and gender is socially constructed anyway?

In this course, we are going to explore these and other questions through a close reading of some of the chapters of Sally Haslanger’s Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique. Haslanger draws on insights from feminist and critical race theory to explore and develop the idea that gender and race are positions within a structure of social relations. Articulating this idea is philosophically important, but also politically significant. It will provide us with a more nuanced understanding of the notions of identity and ideology. And by understanding how gender and race fit within different historical and social structures, we’ll be better equipped to identify and address forms of political injustice.

Philosophy of Religion and Secularization

‘Religion’ has been, and for many in our time continues to be, a major marker of human identities, which shapes communities and frames normative discourse. However, for many Europeans it has lost its relevance, and even its intelligibility. Secularism has many faces too, as it might mean the exclusion of religion from the public sphere, be a frame for non-belief or atheism, or be understood as frame for religious pluralism or an individualistic turn towards ‘spirituality’.

As an influential historical example, we will read carefully, in English, Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (1799). This constructive proposal came shortly after Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy. How did Schleiermacher understand religion? What did he see as the challenges, and how did he address those?

We then will consider what someone in our time might offer as a constructive proposal on such existential, moral, societal and metaphysical issues, whether as a religious or a non-religious position. We will consider some voices on religion and secularization in our time. Last but not least, students will be invited to prepare, in writing, a short constructive ‘speech’, to articulate their philosophical view on these issues, rather than merely discuss the views of other philosophers.

Close Reading of Contemporary Classics I: Husserl and Heidegger on Time, Perception and Memory

The course investigates the contemporary response to the fundamental relation between time, perception and memory in reference to Husserl and Heidegger’s works. One of the most remarkable novelties of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology is to propose a new strategy in overcoming the duality between subject and object.

According to Husserl, intentionality, which is the key component for such a strategy is temporal, and hence, it is at the center of both epistemological and ontological approaches. However, temporality cannot be separated from our perceptions and memories as Husserl clearly exposes in his lectures on 1905 Lectures on Phenomenology of Internal Consciousness of Time and Heidegger elaborates in Being and Time.

In the first half of the course, we will examine how Husserl explains this internal relation between time, perception and memory in his analyses of consciousness of time. As it will become clear in his investigations, the relation among them are also the sources of our constitution of the surrounding world and the other individuals as well. In the second part of the course, our focus will be on how Heidegger transposes time, perception and memory in Being and Time in a more historical and existential direction in his new interpretation of temporality and appearances, and interpreting the surrounding world mostly as “being in the world” and “being with others.” In order to understand the phenomenological project in general and the difference between Husserl and Heidegger provide, some of our leading questions will be:  “What is the meaning of being temporal and historical? How we constitute, understand and interpret our own selves, others, and the world? What is the role of perception and memory in constitution and interpretation?

Close Reading of Contemporary Classics II: Thinking of the Other – Levinas

Without doubt, the work of the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) belongs to the most influential recent continental philosophies.

The class will focus on the collection of texts called Entre Nous. Essays on Thinking-of-the-Other. Levinas’s writings are very demanding to read and understand.  In class we will discuss the main lines of his thinking and then read and examine texts.

During the course, we will examine several texts as collected in Entre Nous, from every stage of Levinas’s career, from his early study of Husserl and Heidegger to the emergence of his new understanding of the human condition and the primacy of ethics, the face-to-face encounter with the human other, the role of language and the relationship between ethics and religion, and finally his understanding of Judaism and its relationship to Western philosophy.  We will be interested in his philosophical method, the relevance of his thinking for ethics and religion, the role of language in his philosophy and the problem of the limits of expressibility, and the implications of his work for politics.  We shall also consider his conception of Judaism, its primary goals and character, and its relation to Western culture and philosophy.

Joint courses

Ethics

This course examines the nature of moral obligation from a variety of different perspectives. It aims to familiarize students with important concepts and problems related to moral obligation in contemporary normative ethics, metaethics and moral psychology. The course will then explore how an informed understanding of the nature of moral obligation can inform issues in applied ethics.

Political Philosophy

This course introduces conceptual and normative questions concerning globalisation processes. The leading conceptual question in this course concerns the relation between law and borders: should globalisation been perceived as a process in which borders are taken away – as a kind of ‘de-bordering’? From a political perspective, globalisations triggers the question as to what extent borders, and thus in- and exclusion, affect social, moral and political values such as equality, (distributive) justice, freedom and security, especially when these values take on a global meaning. These conceptual and normative questions will be analyzed by exploring contemporary examples and scenarios, including multinationals, cyberlaw, the Quebec Secession Reference, et cetera.

Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment

This course questions to what extent the central idea of the Enlightenment – that rationality will lead to moral, social and political progress – still plays a defining role in contemporary society. Have we abandoned this project altogether and embraced the new truth of relativism? Or can we speak of some sort of revival, with people criticizing the critics of Enlightenment? Its leading question is, ‘what is critique?’ In addition, it seeks to define the role of the (public) intellectual, esp. as intermediary between science and the public and ‘guardian’ of democracy.

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