French Philosophy at mid-20th century

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

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Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year: 
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Course Description: 

We will focus on two important French thinkers, each indebted to the phenomenological tradition of Husserl and Heidegger: Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) and Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995). In Merleau-Ponty’s case, after reading a couple of shorter pieces, we will focus on his late work, The Visible and the Invisible. In the case of Levinas, we will spend our time largely on Totality and Infinity. Both were written around the year 1961. Levinas’s speaks to intersubjectivity, ethics and religion in the wider sense. Given their difficulty, we will want to read them rather slowly.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, participants should be able to explain and assess the various contributions by mid-20th century French philosophers on questions of metaphysics, mind, and ethics as well as their convergence with or divergence from other philosophical traditions.



Regular attendance, preparation, and participation in discussion for all. For all students including auditors: 1) One 15-minute class presentation (ungraded).   For grade-takers 2) One 2,000-word term paper. 80% of final grade based on term paper, 20% on class participation. An A grade requires a clear, focused and somewhat original paper. [There is an optional mid-term take-home essay exam. It can count for 20% of your grade, and then the term paper for only 60%.]