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Regular version of the site
Master 2020/2021

Modern Philosophy

Type: Bridging course (Politics. Economics. Philosophy)
Area of studies: Political Science
When: 1 year, 1 module
Mode of studies: offline
Instructors: Georgy Chernavin
Master’s programme: Политика. Экономика. Философия
Language: English
ECTS credits: 3

Course Syllabus


This course presents an overview of the main problems of contemporary philosophy: the problem of sense, the problem of language, and the problem of the symbolical order. The main discourses that we will cover to address these problems are: phenomenology, analytical philosophy, and post-structuralism. A major part of the course contains a close reading of texts by Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Michel Foucault.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • Knowledge of the main problems and positions in contemporary philosophy (as instanced in the philosophers selected for course)
  • describe the main problems and positions in contemporary philosophy;
  • explain the meaning of the philosophical concepts in different discourses of contemporary philosophy;
  • compare and evaluate the different positions in contemporary philosophy.
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Advancement of the students’ grasp of ethics by means of connecting theoretical philosophy with applied philosophical problems;
  • Augmentation of the students’ knowledge of contemporary philosophy through their exposure to the contemporary debates;
  • Enhancement of the students’ ability to pursue a “problem-oriented” rather than a “method-driven” strategy of research;
  • Intensification and enrichment of the students’ awareness of the contemporary philosophical situation and furtherance of their ability to critically and independently form their theoretical and practical position in relation to it;
  • Improvement of the students’ analytical and polemical skills in matters of theoretical and practical philosophy.
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • I. Three Discourses of Contemporary Philosophy
    This course will be an overview of the main problems of contemporary philosophy: the problem of sense, the problem of language, and the problem of the symbolical order. The main discourses that we will cover to address these problems are: phenomenology, analytical philosophy, and post-structuralism. While these problem areas are thematically related, there is a fundamental different in perspective. Consequently, we will also spend considerable time discussing the conceptual conflicts between these discourses Phenomenological philosophy. Topics include: the method of the phenomenological philosophy (the suspension of the judgment, the “reconduction” of the phenomenon to its sense-origin). The main problems of French and German phenomenology: consciousness, time, embodiment, the Other. Its central problem – the problem of sense, how sense comes into being, how it is made or produced. Analytic philosophy. Topics include: the main problems of the Anglo-American analytic philosophy: reference, the impossibility of “private language”, and language games. The method of analytic philosophy (aspect-change, the conceptual analysis of language). Its central problem – the problem of language. Philosophy of post-structuralism. Topics include: the main problems of French structuralism: “différance”, discourse, and the symbolical order. The methods of the philosophy of post-structuralism (the analysis of discursive practices, the “archeology” of knowing, the deconstruction of binary oppositions). Its central problem – the problem of a symbolical order or of the symbolic.
  • II. The Problem of Sense: Phenomenology (a)
    How should we understand the “phenomenon” within phenomenological philosophy? Unlike the common notion of “appearance”, the phenomenon must be understood as sense. Husserl's “phenomenological reduction” is the re-conducting (Zurückführung) toward sense and the process of its formation. Crucial in this context is the potentially infinite field of phenomena to be encountered within consciousness. The generic definition of phenomenology: taking a step back from all that goes without saying, that is, everything we take for granted in experience, in order to supply a the genealogy of the predominant opinions and of common sense; the description of the mechanisms of the becoming and functioning of experiences as it initially or naively appears to us in our natural attitude towards things; establishing of a new horizon of questions that was invisible or even inexistent within the latter dogmatic attitude. Different types of phenomenological philosophy, the phenomenological projects. Edmund Husserl and the search for a sense-origin. Abstention from judgement. Transcendental phenomenology. Martin Heidegger and the analysis of the facticity of being-in-the-world. Fundamental ontology. Jean-Paul Sartre and the analysis of the human freedom in terms of the “Nothing”. Phenomenological ontology, existential philosophy. Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the phenomenology of embodiment. Emanuel Levinas and phenomenological ethics.
  • III. The Problem of Sense: Phenomenology (b)
    Being-in-the-World. Heidegger’s Being and Time. Availableness and Occurentness. Worldliness. Spatiality and space. The “who” of everyday Dasein. The three-fold structure of being-in-the-world. Affectedness. Understanding. Telling and sense. Falling. The structure of care. The hermeneutics of everydayness. Overcoming of metaphysics: the controversy between Carnap and Heidegger. The main concept of the fundamental ontology. “Dasein (literally: being-there)” as the answer to the question “to be whom?” – to be the place from which the question was raised, to be open to the truth of being. Thinking of the event. The overcoming of the Modern Age subject-object paradigm. The necessity of new language resources. Truth as unconcealment. The event (Ereignis) as non-phenomenal ground, the essence of language and of being. A new form of thinking instead of philosophy. The central role of language in the appropriation of humanity by the event.
  • IV. The Problem of Sense: Phenomenology (c)
    Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Perception and sense. How does the unity of sense permit us to structure the sensuous manifold? What is perception? We see the things themselves; the world it is that which we see, a formulation gives voice to a “perceptual faith”. While this belief is, as it were, a royal prerogative of perception it is not clear who “we” are, what it means to “see”, or what a “thing” or “world” is. Perception as an immediate grasping of sense, as an original operation that puts a seal of sense on the sensual world and precedes logical mediation. It is neither the operation of a logical reasoning, nor a judgement. The organization of the world according to a perceptive syntax. Perception is at the foundation of language: all the possibilities of the language are already given in the structure of “mute” experience. The critic of the conception of language as a mere shell of thought, as its external accompaniment. The realization of thought in speech. The speaking word (where signifying intention reveals itself in the “nascent state”) versus spoken speech (which uses the given significations as inherited). The phenomenology of embodiment and the “flesh of the world”. The capacity of the living body to engender the sense, to project it into the sensual world and to communicate it to the Other, lies at the basis of language. Sense as an event and not as a result of the process of constitution by consciousness.
  • V. The Problem of Language: Analytic Philosophy (a)
    Logical atomism. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus logico-philosophicus (whose initial title was The Proposition). Logical analysis gives us access to the “carcass of the world” (it “pictures” it, does more than describe it). The project – to demarcate the boundary of thinking or, more precisely, of the expression of thought. The world as a totality of facts (in a logical space), not of things. A state of affairs (a state of things): atomic facts and combinations, configurations of things. The limits of the language are the limits of the world. Minimalistic ontology. The Vienna Circle: from atomic facts to “protocol sentences”. Verification. Non- verifiable sentences produce pseudo-problems. The nonsensical character of philosophical problems. Philosophy as an effort to overcome an intellectual puzzlement, a vague intellectual disquiet. Philosophical puzzles are the puzzles of language. The task consists to provide the “critique of language”. Philosophy is an activity of clarification or logical analysis of the concepts. Logic must “take care of itself”. Striving for an ideal language we find ourselves on a “slippery surface”, in ideal conditions. We need to come back to the “rough soil” of ordinary language. The unsayable in the Lecture on Ethics. We experience surprise when faced with the fact of the existence of the world, of language, but any verbal expression of this surprise is nonsensical, a misuse of language. The same extends to ethical experience, which demands the transgression of the world and of meaningful language. Nothing that we could think or say would be ethics. All attempts to break the “bars of the cage” of the language are hopeless, but we can still uncover the “bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language”. The disorienting influence of language on human thinking. Philosophical problems have the form “I am in an impasse”, so the task of the philosophy is to find a way out, to “show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle”.
  • VI. The Problem of Language: Analytic Philosophy (b)
    The philosophy of the ordinary language. The late Wittgenstein’s Philosophical investigations. Critique of referential theories of language. Language as a multitude of language-games. A language-game is a unity of word-usage and activity, meaning life-forms, the mobile functional language systems of practices, which include social and historical contexts. The refusal of the referential interpretation of meaning (as referring to something non-linguistic: to the external world or to pre-predicative experience). The definition of meaning as use permits us to consider the language as a completely autonomous phenomenon. The analysis of the classical hierarchy of the theory of knowledge (sensation, perception, knowing) as propositions starting from “I feel”, “I see”, “I know”, shows that no mental states could be thought separately and that they are determined by linguistic context, by a language-game. The change of perceptual aspect as change of linguistic context. The understanding as a linguistic phenomenon. The problem of a “private language”: do the immediate impressions or sensations (beyond language) exist? Could they be described by an artificial language forged by the subject himself and not related to ordinary language? The Moore-Wittgenstein debate on certainty. The philosophical status of common sense. The statement “I know this is my hand” as a point of departure. Certainty as a language game. The polemic with phenomenological philosophy. The impossibility of building a “phenomenological” or “primal” language that would give us the access to the non-/pre-linguistic content of philosophical problems: all what we have is ordinary language and all the so-called philosophical problems are the problems of the misuse of everyday language.
  • VII. The Problem of Language: Analytic Philosophy (c)
    The theory of rigid designators by Saul Aaron Kripke describes the origin of names and their function: nomination and reference. According to this hypothesis things have “names” because they were once named or “baptized” by the subject of knowledge. Correct reference is possible because of a rigid connection between the name and the object, and not with its changing set of properties. This “rigidity” is only a regulative idea stabilizing what is denoted, helping us to not lose sight of the referent, to see identical objects instead of factical errors. Speech acts. John Langshaw Austin in his philosophy of ordinary language, based on the late works of Wittgenstein, distinguishes the mention and the use of language terms: not every act of predication is a reference-act. He also distinguishes acts of signifying and different types of performative acts. According to John Searl, the problems of the philosophy of language are derivatives from the problems of the philosophy of mind. Signifying is possible only on the basis of the fulfilment of the linguistic sign by the intentional content, but access to the content of consciousness is possible only through the analysis of speech acts. Searl distinguishes acts of predication, mental states and illocutive acts. Jacques Derrida shows that in their typology of speech acts Austin and Searl lose sight of the contextual limitations of what can be said. The theory of performative subjectivity by Judith Butler. Speech acts and language practice form subjectivity. Butler denies the existence of a “pre-predicative I” as well as all pre-predicative experience. The performative, in spite of the lack of an original ground, retroactively produces the illusion of an unchanging essence underlying subjectivity. The performative forms a statement that, once pronounced, is equal to committing an action (as expressed in the statement); but for all that it is not an act of choice, but rather is more a reproduction of social-cultural norms.
  • VIII. The Problem of the Symbolic: The Philosophy of Poststructuralism (a)
    The structural approach in linguistics. Structure – a system of interconnected linguistic elements. Ferdinand de Saussure made a distinction between: 1 speech activity (language), language as system (langue), and speech as realization of this system (parole); 2 The synchronic and diachronic description of language – that is, an interest in language as a system (in the statics) and an interest in linguistic changes (in the dynamics); 3 syntagmatic (the succession of sounds, syllables and words) and paradigmatic (grammar, phonology, semantics) axes of the language-structure. Semiotics and phonology. The structural approach in anthropology. Claude Lévi-Strauss and his research on the cultural systems of “primitive” tribes: marriage-rules, kinship structures, myths, all of which are “languages”, symbolic systems that function unconsciously, and we can apply to them the methods of structural linguistics in order to find the binary oppositions underlying them (nature-culture, vegetal-animal, raw-cooked, etc.). Complex cultural phenomena are “bundles” of differential attributes. Phonemes, morphemes and “mythemes”. The goal: to investigate the unconscious function of human reason in different cultural systems, to build interdisciplinary models. The history of structuralism. De Saussure, Trubetzkoy, Jakobson in linguistics; Mauss in ethnology and sociology; Lévi-Strauss in anthropology; Dumézil, Vernant in study of mythology, religious studies; Althusser in political economy; Lacan in psychoanalysis; Barthes, Eco in literary criticism and art studies; Foucault in epistemology. Culture could be treated as an aggregate of symbolic systems: matrimonial rules, economic relations, art, science, religion, some aspects of physical and of social reality, the relation between them and between symbolical systems themselves. Structure: a system of relations between elements that unifies the object. The relational theory of sense: the sense is secondary with respect to the system by which it is produced.
  • IX. The Problem of the Symbolic: Philosophy of Poststructuralism (b)
    Roland Barthes sums up the following features of structuralism: dealing with oppositions of signifier and the signified, of synchrony and the diachrony, dealing with structures in general. The goal of the structuralist method is to dismantle, through analysis, symbolical systems and then re-create it, thereby disclosing the rules of how it functions. The dissection of reality and its recreation produces something new: the model and person who creates the model. To discover the moveable fragments those engender sense. They are senseless in themselves, but the smallest change in their configuration changes the whole. Gilles Deleuze claims that in reality only language structures exist, that the structure belongs to the language of the unconsciousness, of symptoms, to the non-verbal language, etc.; even objects have been structured by language. The realm of the symbolic along with the real and the imaginary. The symbolic order that interests structuralism lie at the infra-level in comparison to the phenomenological field of sense. According to Lévi- Strauss, sense is always produced from the non-signifying elements. Sense is always a result, a side effect comparable to optical, linguistic and positional effects. The fundamental “senselessness” of the sense. Place is primordial with respect to those who occupy; therefore the real “subject” is structure and not subjectivity. Structure is real without being actual; it is ideal without being abstract. Structures are unconscious; they are necessarily covered up by their results, products, effects. Every structure is serial.
  • X. The Problem of the Symbolic: The Philosophy of Post-structuralism (c)
    The analysis of discursive practices. According to Michel Foucault, in society the production of the discourse is being controlled. The goal is to restrain the unpredictable event of sense through prohibition, exclusion, and the will to truth. The history of the discursive practices (critique and genealogy) is the history of oppression and compulsion. The analysis of discourse is not an exposure of the universality of sense, but a demonstration of the “thinned out” character of discourse. Discourse is a violence that we exercise on objects, the practice that we impose on them. The sense-event and its logic. Gilles Deleuze proclaims that sense is incorporeal, that it is a pure surface, an effect of the interplay of bodily causes. The relation between sense and the nonsense: nonsense is senseless but it gives the sense – it is a paradoxical element circulating between the signified and the signifier, allowing communication between them. The sense event as the condition of the possibility of the becoming and of the production of sense. The deconstruction of systems. Jacques Derrida, taking inspiration from the Husserlian dismantling (Abbau) of the layers of consciousness and the Heideggerian destruction (Destruktion) of the history of metaphysics, provides a new method for removing binary oppositions, metaphysical schemas, the method of the demonstration of aporias – deconstruction. The “living present” and pre-predicative experience are unaccessible. The proto-writing that precedes speech is primordial with respect to all forms of being; it is the pre-semantic operation of differentiation.
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Essay (homework)
  • non-blocking Reading (homework), Debates (classwork)
  • non-blocking Exam
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (1 module)
    0.25 * Essay (homework) + 0.5 * Exam + 0.25 * Reading (homework), Debates (classwork)


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Dermot Moran, Springer Science+business Media B. V, D. Moran, & Cont Philos Rev. (n.d.). Husserl’s transcendental philosophy and the critique of naturalism. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.4E22E3D8
  • F I Girenok. (2013). Kant, Heidegger and the Problem of Metaphysics. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.AD12FB58
  • Hamilton, A. (2014). Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Wittgenstein and On Certainty. New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=873094
  • Horton, J. (2000). THE ORDERS OF DISCOURSE (Book Review). Political Studies, 48(1), 147. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=asn&AN=2983795
  • JAN PATOCKA, & JAMES DODD. (2018). An Introduction to Husserl’s Phenomenology. LA SALLE: Open Court. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1835570
  • Merleau-Ponty, M. (2004). The World of Perception. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=114850
  • Rump, J. (2011). Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, and the “Structuralist Activity” of Sartre’s Dialectical Reason. Sartre Studies International, 17(2), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.3167/ssi.2011.170201
  • S. Kripke. (n.d.). Chapter 10 Naming and Necessity. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.61B78C8D
  • Soames, S. (2003). Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 2 : The Age of Meaning. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=295536
  • Wheater, K. (2017). Structural Anthropology (Vol. First edition). London: Macat Library. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1552237

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Boundas, C. V. (2006). Deleuze and Philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=165167
  • Butler, J. (1997). Excitable Speech : A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=653574
  • Coliva, A. (2010). Moore and Wittgenstein : Scepticism, Certainty and Common Sense. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=347702
  • Javier Vilanova Arias. (1998). SLUGA, H. y STERN, D.G. (eds.). The cambridge companion to Wittgenstein. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.9F343991
  • Moran, D. (2000). Introduction to Phenomenology. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=70809
  • morris, katherine j. (2008). The Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty - Edited by Taylor Carman and Mark B.N. Hansen. Philosophical Books, 49(1), 57–59. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0149.2008.456_7.x
  • Rae, G. (2013). Overcoming Philosophy: Heidegger, Metaphysics, and the Transformation to Thinking. Human Studies, 36(2), 235–257. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10746-012-9253-x
  • Saussure, F. de, & Harris, R. (2013). Course in General Linguistics. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=654248
  • Świątkowski, P. (2015). Deleuze and Desire : Analysis of The Logic of Sense. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1104585