PHIL 208: 19th-Century Philosophy

PHIL 208: 19th-Century Philosophy: Idealism as Modernism

Instructor: Chris Latiolais

Course Goals:

This course introduces students to 19th-century, Continental-European philosophy by reading representative works by Kant, Schiller, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. The central theme of the course is the concept of human freedom. We begin by examining Immanuel Kant’s famous “Copernican Revolution” in philosophy, in which he limited human knowledge to a “mechanically conceived” nature in order to introduce a radical conception of human freedom. We will then examine, in chronological order, how the major figures of the 19th-century tradition interpret, criticize, and develop Kant’s radically new conception of human freedom, particularly in light of its sharp contrast to natural causality. A central question raised by post-Kantian philosophers is how such a radical conception of human freedom could account for how human actually develop and shape their identities in social settings. What would count as a “free” or “autonomous” self-determination of one’s own life with others. As we will see, each subsequent philosopher offers a different account of how such self-shaping is possible.


Students will be evaluated on the basis of class participation, vocabulary quizzes, midterm examinations and a final paper.

Breakdown of Points of Evaluation:

  • Participation: Classroom discussion, office-hour conferences, email correspondence, and discussion with classmates = 20%
  • Quizzes: 6 @ 5 = 30%
  • Midterm Papers: 1 @ 25 = 25%
  • Final Paper = 30%


Students are expected to follow the reading schedule and to come to class prepared to actively discuss the texts they have read. More specifically, students must bring their texts to class with marginal notes, highlighted or underlined passages of particular importance, and pages marked where they have encountered difficulties in understanding the material. Quizzes offer students the opportunity to identify and to clarify central terms and concepts. The midterm assignments allow student to write essays on key philosophical issues and arguments, and the final paper offers students the opportunity to respond in depth to a single topic. The final paper is due on the day scheduled for the final examination.

The Following are Basic Policies:

  • Three unexcused absences will result in a full course grade reduction (exceptions allowed only with proper documentation).
  • Late papers are marked down a half grade per day (exceptions allowed only with proper documentation)
  • No active electronic devices such as computers, mobile phones, Blackberries, Blueberries, or any other electronic fruits and vegetables are permitted in the classroom, although tape recorders are permitted.
  • All documented disabilities will happily be accommodated upon the student’s request.
  • An act of plagiarism result in a failing grade for the specific assignment. A second act will result in an F course grade.
  • During seminar discussions, students must attend to the person holding the floor, responding to his or her contribution. In other words, no one-on-one lateral comments, which divert attention from the ongoing discussion.
  • Three unexcused absences will result in a full grade reduction.
  • Late papers will be marked down a half grade for the first day and a full grade for the second day. All work must be turned in at the end of term.


  • Pinkard, Terry. German Philosophy, 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism (Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  • Schiller, Friedrich. On The Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1982).
  • Hegel, G.W.F. [Ed. Walter Kaufmann]: Hegel: Texts and Commentary (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana 1975).
  • Marx, Karl/ Engels, Friedrich [Ed. Robert C. Tucker]: The Marx-Engels Reader (W. W. Norton & Company, New York 1972) [Excerpts].
  • Kierkegaard, Soren: Fear and Trembling (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1983).
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich: Beyond Good and Evil (Vintage Books, New York 1989).

Films (Wednesday Evenings: 8:00pm):

  • Memento (2000: directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay written by Nolan based on his younger brother Jonathan Nolan’s short story “Memento Mori”)
  • American Beauty (1999: directed by Sam Mendes; screenplay written by Alan Ball)
  • Waterland (1992: Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, adapted from Graham Swift’s 1983 novel Waterland)
  • Blade Runner (1982: directed by Ridley Scott)
  • Babette’s Feast [Babettes Gæstebu] (1987: directed by Gabriel Axel; screenplay was written by Axel based on the story, Babettes Gæstebu, Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen])
  • The Hairdresser’s Husband [Le Mari de la coiffeuse] (1990: directed by Patrice Leconte; screenplay written by Patrice Leconte and Claude Klotz)
  • Nymphomaniac [NYMPH()MANIAC] (2013: directed and written by Lars von Trier)

German Across the Curriculum Component:

Selected texts may be read in the German original. GAC students will be given alternative assignments and weekly tutorials.

Bridge Reading Component:

Students interested in linking course material to their major course of study will be given special readings and assignments. Tutorial meetings are required, and the final paper must be completed in consultation with professor in home department.

  • Psychology: Students interested in exploring the philosophical foundations of developmental psychology will be given readings that link the course to the works of Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan. Students interested in issues of identity formation in self- psychology and psychoanalysis will be given a different set of readings. See Psychology Bridge-Readings (Philosophy Homepage).
  • Political Science: Students interested in examining the philosophical roots of current debates in political theory and feminist philosophy will be given readings by contemporary political thinkers who analyze modern politics in the light of 19th-century philosophers.
  • Religion: Students interested in a fuller examination of Kierkegaard’s theology in contemporary discussions will be given readings that discuss Kierkegaard’s critique of secular identity formation.

Reading Schedule:

Historical Introduction to the Kantian Legacy: The Trifurcation of Reason

Week One:
  • Tuesday:
    • Introductory Lecture: “Kant’s Transcendental Idealism.”
    • Survey
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: Memento
  • Thursday:
    • Pinkard, Introduction (pp. 1-19).
    • Pinkard, “The Revolution in Philosophy (1): Human Spontaneity and the Natural Order (pp. 19 – 45).
    • Survey returned.
Week Two:
  • Tuesday:
    • Pinkard, “The Revolution in Philosophy (2) Autonomy and the Moral Order (pp. 45 – 66).
    • Pinkard, “The Revolution in Philosophy (3): Aesthetic Taste, Teleology, and the World Order (pp. 66 – 82)
    • Quiz #1

Schiller’s Reconciliation of Freedom and Nature: The Aesthetic Critique of Modernity and its Prognosis in the Aesthetic Education

  • Thursday:
    • Schiller, Letter One to Twelve.
    • Quiz #2.
Week Three:
  • Tuesday:
    • Schiller, Letters Thirteen to Twenty-Seven
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: American Beauty
  • Thursday:
    • Schiller (end).
    • Quiz #3.

Hegel’s Account of Self-Development: Logical Self-Determination as the Self-Historicizing of the Concept

Week Four:
  • Tuesday:
    • Pinkard, “The 1790s: Fichte.”
    • Hegel, “Philosophy Must Become Scientific.” (pp. 1-29).
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: Waterland
  • Thursday:
    • Hegel, “The idea of a Phenomenology of the Spirit” (pp. 29-57).
    • Pinkard, “Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (pp. 214 – 246).
    • Quiz #4.
Week Five:
  • Tuesday:
    • Hegel, “Truth” & “Conclusion” (pp. 57-113).
    • First Midterm Examination.
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: The Collector
  • Thursday:
    • Hegel, “The Struggle of Master and Slave” [Handout].

Marx’s Critique of Idealism: The Materialist Account of Historical Development

Week Six:
  • Tuesday:
    • Marx, “Discovering Hegel (Marx to his father)” [handout].
    • “Theses on Feuerbach” [handout]
    • “The German Ideology: Part One.” [handout].
  • Thursday:
    • Marx,

Kierkegaard’s Attack upon Auto-Telic Accounts of Identity Formation: “Resting Transparently in Another”

Week Seven:
  • Tuesday:
    • Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling:
    • Preface,
    • “Preface”
    • “Exordium”
    • “Eulogy on Abraham” (pp. 1-27).
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: Babette’s Feast
  • Thursday:
    • Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling:
      • “Preliminary Expectoration”
      • “Problema 1” (pp. 27-68).
Week Eight.
  • Tuesday:
    • Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (end.)
  • Wednesday Evening Movie: The Hairdresser’s Husband
  • Thursday:
    • Kierkegaard Discussion and Review.

Nietzsche’s Genealogical “Unmasking” of Idealism and Materialism: The Self as the Will-to-Power

Week Nine:
  • Tuesday: Beyond Good and Evil
    • Preface
    • “On the Prejudices of Philosophers”
    • “The Free Spirit”
  • Thursday: Beyond Good and Evil
    • “What is Religious”
    • “Epigrams and Interludes”
Week Ten:
  • Tuesday: Beyond Good and Evil:
    • “Natural History of Morals”
  • Thursday:
    • Closing Comments.
    • Student Evaluations.