Philosophy of History from Kant to Foucault

One of the distinctive features of much modern European philosophy has been reflection on the meaning of human history. How should we, as historical beings, understand ourselves and our place in history? Are we moving forward, and if so, how and to what? Or should we rather be looking back, to understand where we are now and how we got here? Or is the whole project misguided? This course will consider how some of the most important thinkers of the last 250 years, including Kant, Hegel, Marx , Nietzsche, Heidegger, Benjamin, Adorno and Foucault, have asked and answered these questions. The course will focus on a selection of key texts, showing how they cite, criticize and complicate each other. Given the centrality of history to nearly all the philosophers concerned, the course will also provide a useful introduction to important strands within modern European philosophy.

All materials will be provided electronically via the course website.

Course Structure

  1. Philosophical history in the enlightenment and counter-enlightenment
  2. Kant: universal history
  3. Hegel: world history as the progress of spirit
  4. Marx: historical materialism
  5. Nietzsche: the uses and disadvantages of history for life
  6. Nietzsche: genealogy and the critique of progress
  7. Heidegger: existential historicity
  8. Benjamin: messianic history
  9. Adorno: history as catastrophe?
  10. Foucault and Derrida: deconstruction, genealogy and 'the end of man'

Updated: 15th July 2021