Seminars by Faculty of the University of Chicago

The Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago offers a wide array of seminars on topics in German Philosophy taught by faculty both in and affiliated with the Department. Below is a list of the seminars to be taught by our faculty during the academic year 2018/19 that might be of interest to students with a research focus in German Philosophy.

Autumn Quarter 2019

PHIL 27500/37500 (HIPS 25001, FNDL 27800, CHSS 37901) Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

This will be a careful reading of what is widely regarded as the greatest work of modern philosophy, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Our principal aims will be to understand the problems Kant seeks to address and the significance of his famous doctrine of “transcendental idealism”. Topics will include: the role of mind in the constitution of experience; the nature of space and time; the relation between self-knowledge and knowledge of objects; how causal claims can be justified by experience; whether free will is possible; the relation between appearance and reality; the possibility of metaphysics. (B) (V)  M. Boyle

PHIL 50114 Wittgenstein’s Tractatus

This course will provide a close reading of Wittgenstein’s only published book. We will place the Tractatus in the context of Frege and Russell’s logical works, examining Wittgenstein’s debts to and critique of his predecessors. We will explore both the overall strategy of the book and the contemporary debate about how to read its mysterious, seemingly self-undermining conclusion, and the details of his views (e.g. the “picture theory” of language, the context principle and meaning, the nature of logic, the general form of proposition, the accounts of mathematics, science, and ethics). We will close with a brief discussion of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy in relation to the Tractatus. Secondary literature will include selections from Ramsey, Ryle, Anscombe, Geach, Hacker, Conant, Diamond, Goldfarb, Kremer, Ricketts, and Sullivan. (II)  M. Kremer

PHIL 53451 Perception and Self-Consciousness 

In the first part of the course, we’ll be discussing an argument to the effect that: in order for radical skepticism about empirical knowledge not to be intellectually obligatory, we must understand ourselves as enjoying a very particular kind of self-consciousness. In the remainder of the course, we’ll be trying to get into view what an adequate account of that sort of self-consciousness might look like.  D. Finkelstein

PHIL 55912 Aristotle and Marx

In the preface to the first edition of Capital, Marx describes his theoretical standpoint as one from which “the development of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history.” With a view to understanding Marx’s theoretical standpoint we will “go back,” in Marx’s words, “to the great investigator who was the first to analyze the value-form, like so many other forms of thought, society and nature. I mean Aristotle.” Aristotle’s influence on Marx is well-known and frequently attested by Marx himself. We will explore that influence as it manifests itself in Marx’s views on a variety of topics—e.g. on human nature and history; on labor, leisure and the good life; on slavery and freedom; on value and exchange; on property and wealth; on justice; and on alienation.  A. Ford

Winter Quarter 2020

PHIL 40120 The Philosophical Investigations

A close reading of Philosophical Investigations. Topics include: meaning, explanation, understanding, inference, sensation, imagination, intentionality, and the nature of philosophy. Supplementary readings will be drawn from other later writings. (II)  J. Bridges

PHIL 57504 (SCTH 57504) Kant’s Critique of Judgment

This will be a study of Kant’s third and final Critique, his Critique of Judgment.  We will attempt to survey they book as a whole, including Kant’s influential account of the nature of judgments of beauty and sublimity, as well as his theory of “teleological” judgment and its place in our understanding of the natural world.  We will also seek to comprehend and assess Kant’s claim that these studies constitute essential contributions to a critique of our cognitive power of judgment, a critique which is crucial to the completion of his larger “critical” project surveying the scope and limits of human cognition as a whole. (V)  M. Boyle

Graduate Students from Other Departments Must Have Instructor’s Consent to Enroll.

PHIL 58205 Fichte on You and I

(I)   M. Haase

Spring 2020

PHIL 34109 John McDowell’s Mind and World

This course will be an overview and introduction of some of the main themes of the Philosophy of John McDowell, orientated around his book Mind and Word. We will also read some of his writings on philosophy of perception and disjunctivism dating from before the book, as well as some of his later responses to critics of the book. The course will conclude with a brief glance at the subsequent development of his views, especially in philosophy of perception since Mind and Word. (B) (III)  J. Conant

Requirement: One previous course in philosophy.

PHIL 28203/38203 (FNDL 28204) Hegel’s Philosophy of Right 
M. Haase
PHIL 54602 The Analytic Tradition

This seminar will be a graduate survey course on the history of the first half of the analytic philosophical tradition. The course will aim to provide an overview of developments within this tradition, starting from the publication of Frege’s Begriffsschrift in 1879 and reaching up to the publication of Ryle’s The Concept of Mind in 1949 and the posthumous publication of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations in 1953. The course will focus on four aspects of this period in the history of analytic philosophy: (1) its initial founding phase, as inaugurated in the early seminal writings of Gottlob Frege, G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, as well as Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus; (2) the inheritance and reshaping of some of the central ideas of the founders of analytic philosophy at the hands of the members of the Vienna Circle and their critics, especially as developed in the writings of Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, Moritz Schlick, and W. V. O. Quine, (3) the cross-fertilization of the analytic and Kantian traditions in philosophy and the resulting initiation of a new form of analytic Kantianism, as found in the work of some of the logical positivists, as well as in the writings of some of their main critics, such as C. I. Lewis; (4) the movement of Ordinary Language Philosophy and Oxford Analysis, with a special focus on the writings of Gilbert Ryle and the later Wittgenstein. (V)  J. Conant

Academic Year 2018-19

Autumn, Winter, and Spring Quarters 2018/19


PHIL 51200. Law-Philosophy Workshop.

The topic for 2018–19 will be “Enlightenment liberalism and its critics,” the critics coming from both the left and the right. Enlightenment liberalism was marked by its belief in human freedom and the need for justifications on any infringements of that freedom; by its commitment to individual rights (for example, rights to expression or to property); and by its faith in the rational and self-governing capacities of persons and their basic moral equality. The Workshop will begin in the fall with several classes just for students to discuss foundational readings from liberal thinkers like Locke, Kant, and Mill (we may also have some outside speakers taking up Kantian and Millian themes). In the Winter quarter, we will consider critics from the left, notably Marx and Frankfurt School theorists like Herbert Marcuse. In Spring, we will turn to critics from the “right” such as Nietzsche (who rejects the moral equality of persons) and Carl Schmitt. There will be sessions with the students discussing primary texts and then sessions with outside speakers sometimes interpreting the primary texts, sometimes criticizing the critics of liberalism, and sometimes developing their ideas. B. Leiter, N. Lipshitz, M. Nussbaum

Spring 2019


PHIL 23701/33701. Varieties of Philosophical Skepticism.

The aim of the course will be to consider some of the most influential treatments of skepticism in the post-war analytic philosophical tradition – in relation both to the broader history of philosophy and to current tendencies in contemporary analytic philosophy. The first part of the course will begin by distinguishing two broad varieties of skepticism – Cartesian and Kantian – and their evolution over the past two centuries (students without any prior familiarity with both Descartes and Kant will be at a significant disadvantage here), and will go on to isolate and explore some of the most significant variants of each of these varieties in recent analytic philosophy. The second part of the course will involve a close look at recent influential analytic treatments of skepticism. It will also involve a brief look at various versions of contextualism with regard to epistemological claims. We will carefully read and critically evaluate writings on skepticism by the following authors: J. L. Austin, Robert Brandom, Stanley Cavell, Thompson Clarke, Saul Kripke, C. I. Lewis, John McDowell, H. H. Price, Hilary Putnam, Barry Stroud, Charles Travis, Michael Williams, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. This will be an advanced lecture course open to graduate students and undergraduates with a prior background in analytic philosophy. J. Conant


PHIL 56706. Conceptions of the Limits of Logic from Descartes to Wittgenstein.

In what sense, if any, do the laws of logic express necessary truths? The course will consider four fateful junctures in the history of philosophy at which this question received influential treatment: (1) Descartes on the creation of the eternal truths, (2) Kant’s re-conception of the nature of logic and introduction of the distinction between pure general and transcendental logic, (3) Frege’s rejection of the possibility of logical aliens, and (4) Wittgenstein’s early and later responses to Frege. We will closely read short selections from Descartes, Kant, Frege, and Wittgenstein, and ponder their significance for contemporary philosophical reflection by studying some classic pieces of secondary literature on these figures, along with related pieces of philosophical writing by Jocelyn Benoist, Matt Boyle, Cora Diamond, Peter Geach, John MacFarlane, Adrian Moore, Hilary Putnam, Thomas Ricketts, Sebastian Rödl, Richard Rorty, Peter Sullivan, Barry Stroud, Clinton Tolley, and Charles Travis. The course is open to advanced undergraduates and graduate students with prior background in philosophy. J. Conant


PHIL 20215/30215 (SCTH 30215). The End of Life.

Aristotle taught that happiness, or Eudaimonia, I the end of human life, in the sense that it is what we should strive for. But, in another sense, death is the end of life. This course will explore how these two “ends” – happiness and death – are related to each other. But it will do so in the context of a wider set of concerns. For, it is not only our individual lives that come to an end: ways of life, cultural traditions, civilizations and epochs of human history end. We now live  with the fear that human life on earth might end. How are we to think about, and live well in relation to, ends such as these? Readings from Aristotle, Marx, Engels, Freud, Heidegger, and Arendt. A. Ford & J. Lear


SCTH 44917. Studies in Dramatic Structure: Goethe and Schiller

Drama, as theoreticians from Aristotle to Hegel forcefully argued, views the world through the lens of action. But how exactly does action make the world intelligible? In this course we shall consider this question through the close analysis of two (very different) historical plays: Goethe’s Egmontand Schiller’s Maria Stuart. Since both these plays rely on historical sources, we shall have the opportunity to view dramatic structure against the background of historical events (both factual and mythic). Schiller’s theoretical work, centrally his review of Egmont, and Goethe’s essays on Shakespeare will provide important analytical reference points, but our discussions will also draw on theoretical work on drama from Hegel to Juliane Vogel. This course provides a unique opportunity for the close study of dramatic structure. D. Wellbery

Winter Quarter 2019


PHIL 20210/30210. Kant’s Ethics.

In this course we will read, write, and think about Kant’s ethics. After giving careful attention to the arguments in the Second Critique, portions of the Third Critique, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, the Metaphysics of Morals, and several other primary texts, we will conclude by working through some contemporary neo-Kantian moral philosophy, paying close attention to work by Christine Korsgaard, David Velleman, Stephen Engstrom, and others. B. Laurence


PHIL 55511. Mourning and Melancholia.

What is it to live well — or poorly — with death? Why is mourning thought of as psychic health? This seminar will read closely Freud’s classic papers, “Mourning and Melancholia” and “On Transience”. We shall also read other Freudian texts on death, murder and loss — such as Totem and Taboo, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego — and consider how all these phenomena contribute to the development of the human mind. We shall read other psychoanalysts such as Hans Loewald on separation and mourning. And we shall read other thinkers such as Heidegger on being-towards-death, Rilke on transience, Cora Diamond on loss and other authors. Permission of instructor required. This will be a small, active seminar; enrollment is limited. Please email before the first meeting if you have an interest in participating. J. Lear


PHIL 51830. Topics in Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy: Nietzsche on Morality, Suffering, and the Value of Life.

Nietzsche objects to Judeo-Christian morality (and its ‘ascetic’ analogues in non-Western traditions) because he argues it is a fatal obstacle to certain kinds of human flourishing and cultural excellence. This is closely connected to his opposition to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic view that the inescapable fact of suffering renders life without value (a life without human excellence would, on Nietzsche’s view, lack value). These issues (and others, e.g., the nature of philosophy and tragedy, the conception of Dionysus) have antecedents in his early work as a scholar of antiquity and the influence of his Basel colleague, the important historian Jacob Burckhardt. Roughly the first five sessions will be devoted to reconstructing the “mature” Nietzsche’s view, as represented by the Genealogy, but also excerpts from Daybreak, Beyond Good and Evil, Twilight of the Idols, and Ecce Homo. The remaining four sessions of the seminar will explore the historical background, in Greek literature and philosophy, the reception of Greek culture in German philosophy, and in the seminal work of his colleague Burckhardt. The ultimate goal is to reconstruct Nietzsche’s view from a philosophical point of view and, as importantly, in light of the historical context. Open to philosophy PhD students without permission and to others with permission; those seeking permission should e-mail Leiter with a resume and a detailed description of their background in philosophy (not necessarily in the study of Nietzsche). In the event of demand, preference will be given to J.D. students with the requisite philosophy background. M. Forster; B. Leiter


Social Thought 38113 Hermeneutics of the Image

What does it mean to “read” an image? To achieve an understanding of its “meaning”? This is not an easy question since images don’t directly offer propositional content, which is the usual habitat of meaning. In this seminar, we will approach this question by considering first some foundational contributions to hermeneutics (Gadamer, Hirsch) and to the theory of pictorial meaning (Wollheim). We will then dig into the tradition of pictorial interpretation as it unfolds starting with Winckelmann and Diderot and extending to the present day (Fried, Clark). Freudian hermeneutics (Freud, Adrian Stokes), iconology (Panofsky), and phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger) will also be considered. In each case, we will endeavor to test the claims and interpretive findings through close examination of the images involved. The emphasis will be on the tradition of European painting and sculpture, but the tools acquired in the seminar should also be applicable in other fields. D. Wellbery

Autumn Quarter 2018

PHIL 51821. Political Liberalism and Social Pathologies.

The exercise of state power is supposed to pass a test of “legitimacy.” However, it has been difficult to find a legitimacy criterion that is both compelling and satisfiable. In Political Liberalism John Rawls proposes a criterion of legitimacy that he thinks will be compelling, satisfiable, and, crucially, acceptable to a wide range of citizens’ (reasonable) fundamental beliefs (or, as he calls them, “comprehensive doctrines”). Rawls’s proposal has been criticized in many ways. In the seminar we will go through and try to understand the structure and content of Rawls’s political liberal view. We will then examine several challenges to his criterion of legitimacy. Finally, we will look at a challenge that stems from work by recent writers of the Frankfurt School. This challenge says (i) Rawls’s legitimacy criterion does not preclude significant “social pathologies” associated with a capitalist economy, and (ii) no criterion of legitimacy that could preclude these pathologies would be consistent with the basic agenda of political liberalism. The seminar will read work by Rawls, Colin Bird, Corey Brettschneider, Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth and Rahel Jaeggi. (I) D. Brudney


Social Thought 41219  Interpretation: Theory and Practice. 

This seminar will be conducted on two tracks. On the one hand, we will study major contributions to hermeneutic theory (including positions that understand themselves as anti-hermeneutic). Contributions to be considered include works by Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wijlhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, E.D. Hirsch, Manfred Frank, Roland Barthes, Stanley Cavell, and Jacques Derrida. At the same time, the seminar will include a practical component in which we will collectively develop interpretations of works by Heinrich von Kleist, Johann Peter Hebel, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, Guillaume Apollinaire, Emily Dickinson, and Herman Melville. English translations of the assigned reading will be provided. (This course is restricted to students in Ph.D. programs.) D. Wellbery