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Enlightenment and the Culture of Reason

PG Optional Course Outline

Course coordinator: Chandreyee Neyogi 

Module 1: Science and the critical culture of Reason:

a)       Modernity against Tradition: Faculties of the Soul; Mind-Body dualism; Nature, Culture and Art

b)       Science and the new materialism: Method, System and Classification

c)       Practices of thinking: Empiricism, Rationalism, Skepticism, Cynicism

Possible Texts: Excerpts from Bacon’s Advancement of Learning (Bk II) and Novum Organum (Aphorisms), Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Books I and IV), Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Swift’s Battle of the Books and Gulliver’s Travels Books III and IV; Pope’s Essay on Man and Thomson’s Seasons, Johnson’s Rasselas


Module 2: Philosophy and the Project of Knowledge

a)       What kind of Knowledge? Diderot’s entry on ‘Encyclopedie’ and explication of the frontispiece

b)       Kant and the Culture of Enlightenment: Excerpts from Kant’s three Critiques

c)       Man and the Human Sciences: Excerpts from Kant’s Anthropology


Module 3: History, teleology and progress

a)       New historiographies: Excerpts from Voltaire’s Philosophy of History, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vico’s Scienza Nuova

b)       Writing a history of progress: Excerpts from Kant’s Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective and Condorcet’s Sketch for a Historical Progress of the Human Mind

c)       Culture as a historical project and the role of the university: Kant’s Contest of the Faculties and Derrida’s reading


Module 4: Political Economy and Social Organization

a)       Dominant and radical enlightenment: Evolution, reform or revolution? Excerpts from the writings of Adam Smith, Beccaria, Bentham, and Kant.

b)       Public discourse and the agency of enlightenment: The public, the intellectual or the enlightened monarch? Kant’s ‘What is Enlightenment’ and selected essays by Addison and Steele

c)       Culture(s) of Democracy: Excerpts from the works of Habermas and Jonathan Israel


Module 5: Construction of the Enlightenment Self and its Others

a)       Gendering Reason and the reason of gender (Excerpts from Rousseau’s Emile and Condorcet’s essay ‘On the emancipation of women’ )

b)       Representations of marginality: working class poetry, slave narratives and female utopias

c)       Enlightenment against Empire (Texts to be announced)


Module 6: Reason’s Repression

a)       The repressed of Reason – Religion, Nature and the Inhuman: Excerpts from Hume’s Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul, D’Holbach’s The System of Nature and Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Boudoir

b)       God, madness and spiritual being: Excerpts from Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot and Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart

c)       Counter-enlightenment and post-enlightenment critiques of Reason: Excerpts from essays by Isaiah Berlin, Adorno and Horkheimer, Habermas and Lyotard, Foucault, MacIntyre


(Note that this is a comprehensive course outline. Not all the texts or modules will be included in a particular semester. All excerpts from the prescribed texts will be short and related to the topics for discussion.)



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