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STD 615E - Phenomenology and Politics

Course Objectives

Students will learn about how phenomenological philosophy is used in important works of political thought. They will study major texts, developing analytical, evaluative and critical skills through class discussion, class presentations, and term papers.

Course Description

The course looks at how a philosophical approach known as Phenomenology has entered into political thought. The course concentrates on texts of political thought themselves rather than philosophical phenomenology. The text most concerned with the philosophy of phenomenology is the first text in the course, ‘Letter on Humanism’ by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. This gives some understanding of philosophical phenomenology, and can be a starting point for further reading on the topic. It reacts to Jean-Paul Sartre (French philosopher) , whose most important work of phenomenology is Being and Nothingness (1943). You can also go back to the book that established Heidegger as a major philosopher, Being and Time (1927) or to Heidegger’s teacher Edmund Husserl (Austrian philosopher), who established phenomenology as a major philosophical approach. His most extensive expositions of his philosophy can be found in Logical Investigations (1901) and Ideas (1913). Cartesian Meditations (1929) is also significant. Moving forward from Sartre, Phenomenology of Perception (1945) by Maurice Merleau-Ponty (French philosopher) is in part an answer to Being and Nothingness and is itself a major philosophical work. Phenomenology in general focuses on forms and structures of consciousness. This can be a very formal approach to defining forms and structures, as can be found in Husserl. It can be very oriented to psychology, perception and cognition, as can be found in Merleau-Ponty. It can be more social, historical, cultural and political which is the kind of text we are examining, where it is most relevant to political thought.
We start with Heidegger’s ‘Letter on Humanism’ which questions the idea of philosophical humanism. Heidegger argues that individual relationship with language and history undermines the idea of a humanity which exist as a substantial thing exşsting separately from history and language, providing a foundation for ethical and political language. As Heidegger points out the idea of a human and the rights of an individual change over, in politics, and in other spheres. We then move onto the German political and legal thinker Carl Schmitt, who understood law and politics as basic human enterprises emerging from the conditions of human community and history, living on the earth, developing with history. We will see how he understands the changing nature of ideas of law, international law, national territory, Europe and the world. After Schmitt, we will examine the work of Heidegger’s student, the German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt. We see how she makes an argument about the emergence of politics in the social world antiquity, followed by subsequent changes in society and historical experience which condition politics. We finish with the work of the French philosopher and historian of systems of thought (the professorial title he chose), Michel Foucault. We will examine his account of the emergence of the medical clinic in the late eighteenth century as a change from previous practices and ideas of medicine, formed by political change, social development, as institutional power as well as intellectual development, all rooted in the nature of social experience and knowledge.

Course Coordinator
Barry Davıd Stocker
Course Language
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