History and Freedom

History and Freedom

History and Freedom

Kalamazoo College

Winter 2016

PHIL 295

Instructor:Dr. Patrick Ahern


Office Hours: MW, 1:15-2:15, and by appointment

Office Location: Humphrey House, 202

Class Times: MW, 10:00-11:35, & F, 10:00-10:40

Class Location: ULC, Room 311

The claim to freedom in contemporary emancipatory movements often becomes stifled by the fetishization of the ‘new’ and the look away from the past. The pervasive linear conceptions of time and ofhistory as the progressive movement toward the future have placed the philosophy of history at the center of the social and political question of freedom. In this course, we will historically trace the roots of philosophical traditions that look to history in terms of the predominant model of Western thought that follows a dualistic understanding of history against the materialist tradition that has allied the turn to history with call for freedom. In so doing, the class will place our conceptions of history into question while evaluating the role of those conceptions to our capacity for freedom in both thinking and action.

In order to accomplish this goal, the course will evaluate some of the foundations and critiques of our conceptions of history. The course willturn to modern conceptions of history in Kant and Hegel along with their subsequent critiques in the writings of Nietzsche and Marx. Finally, we will turn to critiques of contemporary notions of history and teleologies of progress in the last century as expressed in the writings of Michel Foucault, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. The class will conclude with a reflection upon emancipatory movements of today and the importance of thinking historically in making claims for freedom.

Required Texts:

Immanuel Kant, Political Writings

Hegel, Introduction to The Philosophy of History

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life

Karl Marx, Marx-Engels Reader

Theodor Adorno, Critical Models

Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings: Volume 4, 1938-1940

(Tentative) Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: An Essay on the Destruction of Experience

(Excerpts to be drawn from other texts, to be provided either in handouts or on-line)

Grade Breakdown:

  • Journal (20%)
  • Two Essays(Paper #1: 20%/ Paper #2: 40%)
  • Class Discussion Leading (10%)
  • Participation (10%)

Reading and Journal Reflections: It is crucial that you complete the readings on the

assigned day and that you have given the text careful consideration before coming to class. Since it will take more than one reading of the texts to familiarize yourself with the ideas presented, you should have the initial reading of the material for the following week done by Monday of the assigned week. The reading schedule will serve as a guide. However, we may adjust the pace of the assignments to provide for more in-depth analysis and in the interest of opportunities for learning. You will be expected to write a journal entry for each class that reflects upon the readings assigned for that day’s class. These journal entries will be periodically reviewed and graded. You should keep these journals in a notebook for review. Each entry should be at least four pages written. For each of the readings, you will be expected to find three questions or points of interest from the text that may be addressed in class discussion. Journals will not be accepted late when they have been accepted and graded. These journals should provide for an opportunity to delve into your own insights regarding the readings. I will not be grading in terms of ‘correctness’ of an interpretation, but rather that you have shown a careful reading and depth of engagement with the reading of the day.

Essays: You will be required to write two papers. The first paper will be at least five

pages and the second paper will be at least seven pages. Possible topics will be distributed in class, though you are encouraged to consider topics of interest to propose for your papers. I will be available to meet with anyone who seeks individual assistance with your paper, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this extra assistance in writing your papers.

Class Discussion Leading: You will be expected to lead class discussion once during

the course of the term. You will be expected to evaluate what issues or problems compelled the writer to write the reading(s) we are covering in class that day, and present a thesis of how they responded to that problem. You will offer an evaluation of the claims, arguments, etc. made in the day’s reading. Also, you will come to class with several questions inspired by the readings for class discussion. The discussion leading will be accompanied by a two-page typed handout that will be distributed to the class as a whole. This handout and preparation for discussion leading should be ready one class prior to the day that you will be leading the discussion. I will briefly meet with you at that time to help you prepare.

Attendance and Participation: Active participation in class discussion is key to

drawing as much from the readings as possible. The class will involve a mixture of lecture and discussion, and you are expected to come to class with questions and comments about the reading. You are entitled to two unexcused absences before your grade is reduced by one step (A to A-, B+ to B, etc.).

Late Policy: Assignments not submitted in-class on the due date are subjected to a

full grade reduction. Exceptions will be granted only under extreme circumstances (death, documented illness, etc.) and when requested in advance.


If you have a disability requiring special accommodations, please let me know as soon as possible so that the necessary arrangements can be made.

Final Note:

I encourage feedback from you regarding anything in the class that you find most or least helpful to your understanding or interest in the material. While I am aware that many of the ideas in the class will be challenging, it is my hope that the classroom atmosphere will be conducive to lively discussion and encourage you to take risks in your own thinking. You may even surprise yourself!

(Tentative) Reading Schedule:

Week One(January 4,6,8): Introduction; A discussion of theories of history, linear and cyclical time, and teleological conceptions of history and their critics. Spinoza, The Ethics, Appendix to Book One; Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose”

Week Two(January 11,13,15):Kant, “A Renewed Attempt to Answer the Question: ‘Is the Human Race Continually Improving?’; Kant, “Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History”; G.W.F. Hegel, “Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness” (Hand-out)

Week Three(January 18,20,22): Martin Luther King Day; Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History

Week Four(January 25,27,29): Nietzsche, On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life

Week Five (February 1,3,5): Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History”; Marx, “Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”; “For a Ruthless Critique of Everything Existing”; “Theses on Feuerbach”; Winter break

Week Six(February 8,10,12): Marx, “The German Ideology: Part One”

Week Seven(February 15,17,19): Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller”; “Theologico-Political Fragment”; “Theses On the Philosophy of History”

Week Eight (February 22, 24,26) :Adorno (From Critical Models), “The Meaning of Working Through the Past”; Adorno (From Critical Models), “Progress” and “Education after Auschwitz”

Week Nine(February 29, March 2, 4):Excerpts from, Adorno, History and Freedom: Lectures 1964-1965

Week Ten (March 7, 9, 11): Excerpts from, Theodore Adorno,History and Freedom: Lectures 1964-1965; (Tentative) excerpt Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: An Essay on the Destruction of Experience