Continental Philosophy

Undergraduate Program Status

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This course introduces students to some of the most important issues in 20th century Continental philosophy, concentrating on phenomenology, existentialism, and post-structuralism. It charts a course through these movements which starts with Nietzsche (who influenced all three), showing how each respond to the challenge of philosophizing in the wake of the ‘death of God’ and the crisis of nihilism that follows it. Phenomenology, existentialism, and post-structuralism all involve an interrogation of the dominant methods, themes and questions of previous philosophy and attempt to replace them with something more befitting our current historical predicament. Husserl envisaged phenomenology as the basis for and being intimately connected with science, requiring a suspension of our natural attitude towards things and describing our experience as we experience it, returning ‘to the things themselves’. Heidegger revolutionized Husserl’s phenomenological method, using it to begin philosophy again from the ground up and re-awaken ‘the question of Being’, a task which begins with an analysis of the structures of our existence as finite, historical ‘Dasein’. Existentialism asked what the meaning of our life is and how we can be moral in a world with no God in it, and therefore no inherent, pre-given meaning. Post-structuralism investigated the problematic history of our most important concepts, uncovering the power structures that underlie them. In the wake of such analysis, post-structuralists propose philosophical paradigms to replace the old ones and ask how we can conduct politics honestly in a global world, without resorting to totalizing explanations. Authors covered will include Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Foucault, Lyotard, and Butler.