Module Outline (updated 08.05.18)

By the beginning of the 19th century, it had become clear to many European thinkers that modernity was in a state of crisis. The ‘age of Enlightenment’ had long undermined confidence in traditional forms of community, authority and value. But it was still far from clear what should be put in their place. Philosophers, theologians and poets saw themselves as faced with nothing less than a threat of cultural and existential collapse.

In this module, we will examine rival responses to this 19th century crisis of culture via the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. We’ll begin with his portrayal of aesthetic life and consider the critical light this throws on Romantic responses to the modern experience of alienation. Secondly, we’ll examine Kierkegaard’s famous attack on Hegel and on Rationalistic accounts of what it would mean for we moderns to feel at home in the world. We’ll then turn to Kierkegaard’s own diagnosis of the crisis of modernity in terms of a loss of subjectivity through the process of ‘levelling’. Finally, we’ll critically examine his positive suggestions about what a non-alienated form of modern subjectivity would look like, focusing on his conception of self-constancy.

The aims of the module are:

1. to develop students’ familiarity with some of the major themes of 19th century European philosophy;
2. with the help of secondary sources, to undertake a close reading of selected texts from this period, focussing on Kierkegaard’s writings;
3. to foster an understanding of conceptions of modernity in terms of cultural and existential crisis and some major lines of response to the crisis;
4. to advance an understanding of key philosophical concepts, including subjectivity, alienation and self-constancy
5. to develop the ability to produce argumentatively precise and robust critical analysis of philosophical texts and ideas.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

1. identify major problems, themes and positions developed within 19th Century debates about the crisis of modernity;
2. critically appraise three main lines of response to this sense of crisis;
3. produce a detailed essay plan and extended essay (4,000 words) which provides both synopsis and critical assessment of positions and arguments in 19th century European philosophy;
4. explain selected central concepts in the writings of key figures including Fichte, Hegel and Kierkegaard;
5. present a selected text and field questions from peers.