Critical Reason: The Basics


This course deals with basic concepts and problems of western Critical Theory. The readings will focus on key works of Kant and Hegel, and influential critiques/interpretations of these seminal thinkers, including texts by Arendt, Butler, Marx, Lukács, Zizek, Adorno, and Buck-Morss. Requirements: sustained, active seminar participation, sometimes prepared comments, and final paper (or exam option).

Philosophy will be considered from the perspective of the political. Concepts include: critical reason, dialectics, phenomenology, materialist metaphysics, false consciousness, progress, history, causality, and freedom. We will tackle difficult texts with the goal of developing critical capacities in order to analyze political, social and economic life. The challenge will be to make the concepts of the readings critically meaningful as you think about politics and theory today.

Books to Purchase:

Required Books (in the order we will read them):

  • Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, trans. James Ellington (Hackett)

  • Basic Writings of Kant, ed. Allen W. Wood (Modern Library)

  • Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (U of Chicago Press)

  • G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford U Press)

  • Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship between Life and Death (Columbia U Press)

  • Theodor W. Adorno, Hegel: Three Studies, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (MIT Press)

Optional Books (pdfs of excerpts will be available):

  • G.W.F. Hegel, The Encyclopedia Logic, trans. Geraets et al. (Hackett)

  • Slavoj Zizek, Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Verso)


Week 1 (8/29): Introduction

Week 2 (9/5): Kant. Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, Preface and all of Part I:
* Transcendental subject
* Critique (critical idealism)
* Universality and the a priori
* Copernican Revolution
* Objective idealism
* Thing-in-itself

Week 3 (9/12):
Kant, Prolegomena, Part II, para. 14-36; All of Part III; Conclusion up to stand. ref. p. 371) 3rd Antinomy from Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, in Basic Writings of Kant, pp. 96-99 (freedom/determinism)

Week 4 (9/19): Texts of Kant
From Basic Writings of Kant:
* To Eternal Peace, pp. 435-452. Also on the web as Perpetual Peace:
* Third section from Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, (categorical imperative), pp. 203-221
* What is Enlightenment? pp. 135-141
* Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent, 119-132
From The Contest of Faculties Part II:
* Renewed Attempt to answer the Question: ‘Is the Human Race Continually Improving?’ (French Revolution; spectator; enthusiasm)
From Critique of Judgment:
* (3rd Critique), paragraphs 23-29; 34-40 (composed after May 1789) (Aesthetic judgment; the sublime; sensus communis)

Week 5 (9/26): NO CLASS

Week 6 (10/3): Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, esp. pp. 7-77.

Week 7 (10/10:) G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, pages 1-84; 104-112
* Preface (paragraphs 1-72)
* Introduction (para. 73-89)
* Immediacy– Mediation; Consciousness: Sense Certainty (para. 90-138)
* Self-Consciousness: Intersubjectivity as the production of the subject (para. 166-185)

Week 8 (10/17):
Susan Buck-Morss, “Hegel and Haiti,” Critical Inquiry (download free)
Hegel, Phenomenology, master-slave dialectic, pp. 113-119 (para. 186-196)

Week 9 (10/24): Hegel, Phenomenology:
* Observing Reason: Phrenology (para. 298-312; 336-339)
* Actualization of rational Self-Consciousness (para. 347-350)
* Law of Heart and Frenzy of Self-Conceit (para. 367-393)
* Reason as Lawgiver (para. 424-437)
* State Power –Alienated Obedience (para. 500-516)
* Enlightenment – Absolute Freedom and Terror (para. 574-595)

Week 10 (10/31): Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim
Hegel, Phenomenology:
* Spirit: The Ethical Order (para. 438-476)
Hegel, Philosophy of Right (Ethical Life: Family, Civil Society; Police)
* Para. 142, 144-156; 158; 161; 181-183; 187-191; 230-249

Week 11 (11/7):
Hegel, Philosophy of Right (State; Constitution; International Law; World History):
* Excerpts from The Hegel Reader, pp. 380-399
Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel:
* On the Phenomenology (from 1844 Mss: the double mistake in Hegel)
* On Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “The Crown” (monarch v. the people; para. 275-286)
* Hegel, Philosophy of History (cunning of reason; cf. in the Logic, para. 204-215)
Georg Lukács, excerpts from History and Class Consciousness:
* On the totality: “What is Orthodox Marxism?”
* On the proletariat: “Class Consciousness”

Week 12 (11/14):
Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic:
* Para. 48: critique of Kantian Antinomy (dialectics) * Para. 53-55: on Kant’s 2nd and 3rd critiques (is/ought; free imagination)
* Being Becomes (Summary: Para. 111). * Essence Appears (para. 112-131; 138-143)
* Critique of liberalism (para. 145)
* The Concept (para. 160-165)

Week 13 (11/21):
Theodor W. Adorno, first essay in Hegel: Three Studies

Week 14 (11/28):
Theodor W. Adorno, third essay in Hegel: Three Studies

Week 15 (12/5):
Slavoj Zizek, Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Verso 2012)
Hegel, Encyclopedia Logic, on causality, contingency, necessity:
* para. 142-159