Modern & Contemporary

Modern philosophy says:  “We must start again.  We need to separate ourselves from our history, from our past, including past philosophy, which was heavily influenced by religious superstition and also by aristocratic privileges.  In its place we will build our philosophy, our life, and our society on the basis of reason and of freedom.”

Contemporary philosophy says:  “Modern philosophy has failed,” and it thereby separates itself from modern philosophy.  Beyond this it cannot find agreement.  Some think we can get it right if we start again one more time.  Others claim that one does not simply “start again.”  Others claim that modernity must fail: reason and freedom have their shadows, and they often conflict.  Further, religion and privilege aren’t so simple to exercise.  Still others claim that the entire project of civilization, of which modernity is just one part, is itself bound to fail.

This course will look at modern and contemporary philosophy both in general and in specific exemplars.  We will focus on concepts of “freedom” and “happiness” (which are central to ethics) especially as they relate to other concepts such as “reason” and “history.” We will pay attention to the ways philosophers take a distance from “the world” in order to see it better, and how they thereby establish a kind of double-consciousness as the act of philosophizing.




Modern Schedule 2016a

Guide for Writing:

George Orwell


This I Believe Essay


Most of the readings for this course will consist of shorter excerpted articles.

Sources and Types of Knowledge: Readings

Stories:  Readings

Characters:  Readings

Political Criticism:  Readings

Texts to Buy for Class

Quinn, Daniel.  Ishmael:  An Adventure of Mind and Spirit. Bantam, 1995.

Resources for Class

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


The Mission

Manufacturing Consent

Freedom Riders



Lecture on Economic History

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