Kant’s “Critical philosophy,” which begins with the appearance of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, is an attempt to understand no less than the scope and limits of human reason, science, and morality. He wrote that the purpose of philosophy is to answer the following fundamental questions: “What can we know? What should we do? What can we hope for?” In other words: can we really know what reality is like, independent of our individual perspectives and ways of conceiving it? Is scientific inquiry a legitimate, or the only legitimate, way to know reality? Do we have genuine moral obligations to others and to ourselves, and what reasons do we have for fulfilling those obligations? What does it mean to say that a work of art or a landscape is beautiful, and what does it say about the type of creatures we are that these things can evoke such aesthetic experiences in us?
Kant says that answers to all these questions presuppose an answer to another, even more fundamental question: “what is a human being?” In this class, we will survey Kant’s theoretical, ethical, and aesthetic views with particular concern to understand how they fit together into a unified picture of human subjectivity and purpose. Kant’s account of human beings, or persons, grants them “a rank and dignity infinitely above all other things, including all other living beings, on earth.” This view seems profoundly at odds with a common modern conception in which, as Nietzsche describes it, “man has become an animal, literally and without reservation or qualification.” Accordingly, we can only understand human nature, behavior and potential through evolutionary theory and the neurophysiology of the brain. We will ask if Kant’s picture, in contrast, is still viable today, and whether it offers a compelling or attractive alternative account of human beings and their place in nature.
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
Critique of Judgment
In this class we will examine the remarkable cultural ferment of fin-de-siècle Vienna through the lens of one of its principal protagonists, the composer Arnold Schoenberg. Among the questions we will address are: is there a morality of art? How do the apocalyptic yearnings of Viennese Expressionism reflect, and anticipate, the turbulent politics of the early twentieth century? What is “prophetic modernism?” In trying to answer these questions, we will examine Schoenberg’s relation to other leading Viennese figures, including Ludwig Wittgenstein and the satirist Karl Kraus, and read interpretations of his music by such writers as Theodor Adorno and Thomas Mann. We will use Schoenberg’s own path – from a youthful immersion in German Idealism, through his reconversion to Judaism, culminating in the messianic visions of Moses und Aron and A Survivor from Warsaw – to explore the broader ways in which the Jewish experience in Vienna shaped the history of modernism in philosophy and the arts. And we will try to understand why, a century after their creation, the artistic monuments of turn-of-the-century Vienna still have a unique power to compel and disturb.
How can we think or write theory in the wake of poststructuralism? For a number of recent thinkers, one possible answer arrives in the often slippery category of affect, in the attempt to return theoretical attention not only to material conditions but specifically to the body and the intensities that traverse it. Such theorists are critical of the elevation of language over visceral, lived experience and interested in the ways that affects circulate publicly or are transmitted contagiously. “The skin,” writes Brian Massumi, “is faster than the word.” In different ways, they theorize affect—which they distinguish from emotion or feeling—as a per-personal and pre-linguistic entity about which they nonetheless attempt to speak. This class will constitute a joint experiment in how to think, write, and deploy the concept or concepts of affect. Readings will include selections from Baruch Spinoza, Sigmund Freud, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Brian Massumi, Kathleen Stewart, Teresa Brennan, Lauren Berlant, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and others. No prior reading will be assumed, but a willingness to struggle with and through nonlinear and experimental writing (both alone and with the group) will be an absolute necessity.
Image Credit: Peter D. Gerakaris, How High the Moon, 84 x 84 in., Oil on canvas, 2009. © Peter D. Gerakaris. http://www.
Freud’s biographers and commentators often note that we all ‘speak Freud’ today, whether we like it or not. But how did we come to speak Freud, and do we do so well or badly? In examining these questions, this class returns to two of Freud’s most pivotal texts: Studies on Hysteria and the magisterial Interpretation of Dreams. How did the so-called ‘talking cure’ come into being? What is the unconscious and what are its implications for understanding human subjectivity? How do Freud’s ‘readings’ of the texts of dreams and sick bodies relate to theories of textual interpretation? What constitutes the practice of psychoanalysis? Why and how is Freud relevant in the contemporary world?
NB: This is *by no means* a therapy session, but students are encouraged (although certainly not required) to keep a dream-journal throughout the course of the class.