This program situates Continental Philosophy in relation to the historical roots that it shares with Analytic Philosophy, specifically the work of Descartes, Kant, and Plato. Our faculty is also interested in and, as resources permit, teaches a wide range of figures in Continental Philosophy, including Hegel, Husserl, Levinas, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, as well as contemporary philosophers such as Badiou, Habermas, Nancy, Marion, Rancière, Butler, and Zizek.
In our mainstream courses, we will be concerned with the Kantian question of the constitution of the phenomenal world through the faculty of understanding, or (to put this in more modern terms) the question of the relation between the sensible world and its representations. Heidegger turned this question in the direction of the relation between being, the practical understanding (of the “ready-to-hand”), and the theoretical understanding (of the “present-at-hand”). More recently the question has been taken up in the Marxist work of Stuart Hall (doyen of Cultural Studies) and by “post-modern” enfant terrible Michel Foucault, for both of whom the question of the constitutive impact of representations (either explicit or implicit) becomes intertwined with political questions of power.
We will be concerned also with the Cartesian question of the “dual” nature of the human subject– specifically the question of the relation of mind to body or, in more modern terminology, the question of “subjectivity” and its relation to processes of embodiment. This question too, was reworked by Heidegger, for whom the question of human-being—what he calls Dasein—is linked to the difference between “authentic” existence (defined in terms of a temporalized “being-towards-death”) and “inauthentic existence” that fails to take into account the finitude of human life and its projects. Foucault too takes up the question of human-being, but in the context of a more straightforwardly historical-materialist investigation of how in modernity processes of “subjection” have come to focus on the body (the social body as well as individual bodies). Jacques Lacan, by contrast, takes up the question in specifically Freudian terms: shifting the Cartesian problematic of human-being from the terrain of consciousness (and the Cogito) onto the terrain of the Freudian Unconscious.
Our overarching aim in taking up these questions is two-fold: First to situate our work in Continental philosophy within a long and venerable history of work by philosophers from the classical Greek period to the present. Second to heal a gap that has become institutionalized in the modern University system, between Continental Philosophy and Analytic Philosophy. Michael Friedman describes this gap in terms of a division between, on the one hand, “spiritual problems that are the concern of every thinking person—the meaning of life, the nature of humanity, the character of a good society,” problems which have been relegated to the realm of “Continental Philosophy”; and, on the other hand, “specific technical problems in the logical or linguistic analysis of language,” which have become the concern--we might say the “obsession”--of Analytic Philosophy (Friedman: A Parting of the Ways 2000, p.ix). We seek to restore unity between these two domains of problems in the hope of enriching each of them.