Counter-Enlightenment” is a retrospectively-generated term made famous by Isaiah Berlin to refer to certain strains in 18th and 19th century thought that react against the idea of the enlightenment process as found in 18th century Enlightenment thinkers. While there is a political dimension to the Counter-Enlightenment, this course focuses more on its skepticism about the place and nature of reason as well as its attention to cultural diversity as the basis for differences among humans in conceiving, knowing and judging. We will begin by reading Berlin on Counter-Enlightenment which serves as an overview and provocation. We will then spend most of the rest of the time reading J.G. Herder on the philosophy of language and especially his thinking in This Too a Philosophy of History (M. Forster’s translation of Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte). The exact plan will take students’ preferences into consideration.
By the end of the course, students should i) have a better grasp of the ideas and arguments in 18th century European thought and in Herder’s philosophy; ii) have the tools for better assessing the arguments at issue and; iii) have increased at reading and assessing both older texts (Herder) and more recent texts on developments in the history of thought (Berlin).
For all students, regular attendance, punctual reading and participation in discussion is required. All students will be required to make one 15-20 minute presentation. For those students taking the course for a grade, a 2000-word paper is required. The grade is largely based on the paper (with a shift of a third of a grade possible based on discussion performance). ‘B+’ requires a clear structure and clear writing, a good thesis and good supporting arguments sensitive to the strengths of the opposing thesis. ‘A-‘ shows all of the above as well as hard and independent thinking. ‘A’ does the aforementioned and results in truly original and important insights. Because a 2000- word paper is short, it will have to leave enough space to develop its original and important insights.