Fall semester 2017/2018
History of Political Thought (6 ECTS)
As the historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote, “words are witnesses which often speak louder than documents.” This course will examine words and concepts from ancient Greece until the 19th century: dignity, justice, reason, nature, freedom, political community, equality, ideology, democracy, socialism and communism. To imagine the world without such words and the political concepts which they signify is to measure the profundity of the political ideas that shape our world. Beginning with Greek tragedy, the course will examine fundamental questions in the long tradition of political thought. Who is a citizen? Why should we obey the law? When is civil disobedience higher than the law? What is freedom and how is related to equality? What is political obligation? Why do individuals have the right to be treated with dignity and respect? Comprised of three parts: ancient, medieval and modern; the readings are brief selections from classical authors, rather than from secondary sources. Basic concepts such as justice, the rule of law, citizenship, power, liberty, equality, reason and representative government are traced from their origins in Greek thought to their development in the Renaissance to show how they guide political thinking today. The course discussions will emphasize the historical context and main points of different political thinkers and ideas. Because it is a historical class, attendance is important so that intellectual and historical influences of time periods are clear.
Memory, History and Tradition (6 ECTS)
The objective of the course is to familiarize students with the main ideas of historical consciousness and collective memory. From the Platonic notion of memory as a wax block to Hegel's historical consciousness and Nietzsche's critique of historicism, the link between past and present has been an object of philosophical debate. The writings of Maurice Halbwachs on collective memory emphasize that memory is not entirely individual, but linked to particular groups. Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics foregrounded the importance of interpretation, tradition and historical consciousness. Freud, on the other hand, was more interested in the traumatic aspect of past experience, rather than the past as a repository of tradition. The course ends with Derrida's hauntology as a substitute for ontology. In our discussions, we will examine what it means to be conscious of the past, to be influenced, determined or even haunted by past events. An underlying theme throughout the course will be the inability to fully capture and represent past experience in the present.
No prerequisites, but some philosophical background is desirable. The course is meant for advanced bachelor and master’s students.