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PPR.302: Continental Philosophy

Tutor: Garrath Williams
Term: Michaelmas

Course Description

This module considers the work of three figures in nineteenth and twentieth century continental philosophy: Nietzsche is primarily a theorist of morality. Foucault and Arendt are two of the most important political thinkers of the twentieth century.
We begin by looking at Nietzsche’s polemic on the origins and development of morality (Toward a Genealogy of Morality). His speculative but insightful history aims to undermine the self-evidence of morality’s claim to be the ‘value of values.’ He also tries to suggest the desirability of different perspectives on human action and flourishing – although he offers little practical guidance concerning the implications his critique.
We next turn to Foucault, who adapts Nietzsche’s method of historical analysis in order to challenge our assumptions – in his case, about progress toward freedom and welfare in modern societies. For example, in his book Discipline and Punish, Foucault suggests that modern societies can be interpreted as systems of discipline on the model of the prison, rather than as liberal regimes of freedom and rights.
We then turn to Hannah Arendt. Her political thought begins with totalitarian politics. Using a parallel method of historical analysis, Arendt pictures disparate elements – anti-semitism, racism, imperialism, bureaucratic secrecy and more – as coming together in the totalitarian ambition to remake the world. She subsequently develops a picture of politics that places great value on human differences and political freedom.

Learning Outcomes:    

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Explain in outline what is involved in the theories and perspectives of the philosophers studied on the course.
  • Set out some of the influential argumentation that has been developed in relation to each.
  • Develop an informed evaluation of these views and arguments, and offer your own judgments as to their insights and limitations.


40% coursework and 60% exam.
Coursework: 1 essay of 3000 words.  Exam: 2 hours. 

Teaching Method:            

Lecture (1.5 hours) and seminar (1 hour) weekly.

Introductory Reading

Critchley, S      Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)
Downing, L     The Cambridge introduction to Michel Foucault (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
Kohn, J           ‘Three Essays: The Role of Experience in Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought’ on-line at www.memory.loc.gov/ammem/arendthtml/special.html
Nietzsche, F   Toward a Genealogy of Morality [1884] - either Carol Diethe's translation (Cambridge University Press) or Douglas Smith's (Oxford University Press) - NB please do not use any other translations
Solomon, Robert         Living with Nietzsche: what the great “immoralist” has to teach us (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
Tanner, M      Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)


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