159B | CCN: 31661

Rhetoric of Contemporary Political & Legal Theory

Human Being in the Contemporary World: A Philosophical Inquiry into the World-Situation of Contemporary Political, Legal, and Social Thought

Instructor: Nancy Weston,

4 Units

The course of recent political, legal, and social thought is the course of thinking on human beings’ relation to the world and to one another, a course that emerges from and reflects underlying understandings of the nature of truth and sense, of right and obligation, of connection and distance prevailing in that time – in our time.

Most recently, the course of these relations and understandings has brought political and economic upheavals, accelerating scientific and industrial transformation, and a widening sense of flux, volatility, and dislocation. In response to these events, contemporary political, legal, and social theory has offered its accounts and resources to the end of identifying the issues, preserving the advantages, and solving the problems seen in these events. In this seminar, we will undertake, not to add to those already ample efforts, but to step back from them, the better to keep the time and situation to which they are responding in view. We will ask instead after the course of those events and efforts itself, that we might illuminate the arc of those political, legal, and social theoretic efforts, and that of late modernity to which they are responding, as a whole: 

What underlies the singular, distinctively contemporary course of world events and of the political, legal, and social theoretic efforts it elicits?

What understandings of truth and right, of time and world, of human being and human relations underlie this course, giving it its distinctive shape and way?

With the aid of insights drawn from Heidegger and Nietzsche, we will undertake a philosophical investigation into the world-situation that holds sway prior to theoretical and practical activity and sets it on its way. To that end, we shall come to address not only the understandings of truth, right, and politics at work in contemporary political, legal, and social discourse, but these conceptions’ origins, affinities, and precursors in implicit understandings of the world (in the widest sense), of human being, and of their relation. We shall thereby be drawn into reflection upon how it is that contemporary thought about politics, law, and society — and, with it, our own thinking on such matters — has come to take the course that it has; giving our sustained attention to inquiring into the grounds, nature, and implications of this course as a whole, we come to think anew regarding the world and the time in which we dwell.

Please note: The course is an intensive seminar; prepared, participatory attendance is obligatory. Students are advised to plan their schedules accordingly.

The instructor will limit enrollment as necessary, and will consider for enrollment only those students in attendance from the outset. Accordingly, all students interested in taking this class — whether pre-enrolled, wait-listed, or neither — are to attend the first class meeting.

In planning their schedules, students should be aware that wide-ranging collective discussions, often lasting an hour or more, generally occur after each class meeting. In past classes students have found these informal but intense discussions to be highly engaging and of substantial aid in coming to terms with difficult material encountered in the course. You are therefore strongly encouraged to plan your schedule so as to be able to attend these sessions. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the course.

Prior coursework in philosophy is not required; an openness to its challenges is.