Intellectuals and their Publics in the 20th Century

Term: Fall 2010

Subject Code: GHIS

Course Number: 5008

The twentieth century has been called, rightly or wrongly, the era of the “public intellectual.” In this course we will examine the terms “public” and “intellectual” as products of a particular moment in European cultural and intellectual history. The term "public intellectual" – interestingly, American in its origins - has attracted considerable attention while resisting attempts at definition by sociologists, historians and literary critics. For some, the public intellectual represents the triumph of reason in the public sphere; for others, such figures represent the dangerous intervention of philosophers, artists and dreamers in a political world they do not understand. Still others link the public intellectual to the rising importance of the media, popular culture and “pop” sensibilities in academic life. This course will explore all these ideas about the role of the intellectual and society, and others – in the process it will offer a broad survey of twentieth century European and American philosophies of the public sphere. We will also consider the roles played by academics in 20th century European and American public life, and the differences between humanist and natural-scientific “public intellectual” projects. Readings will include Immanuel Kant, Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Jürgen Habermas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Leo Strauss and Michael Warner. (Also counts towards degree requirements for NSSR Philosophy students.)

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