159B | CCN: 30997

Great Themes in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Political and Legal Theory

Truth, Right, Power: Roots and Implications of The Course of Modern Thought

Instructor: Nancy Weston,

4 Units

M 2:00 - 5:00 PM, Evans 7 ///

The understanding of the world and of matters and relations within it as a matter of power and effect has come to thoroughly pervade contemporary thought and theory, providing a standard starting point for theoretic analysis of its abundant and various instances.


This way of thinking itself, and how it could possibly give rise to such far-reaching, ubiquitous, and protean manifestations, remains, however, largely unthought and unexplored, so true it is that this is indeed the way we are given to think, now, on all that we encounter. In this seminar – charged with “concentrat[ing] … on aspects of twentieth century political, social, and legal theory that are too complex to be treated comprehensively as one section of the courses in modern theory” – we shall undertake to do just that: to think through the course of this distinctive and ubiquitous way of thinking itself, attending to its spring, nature, scope, and origins, and to its momentous implications.


How is it that all comes to be understood in this single, singular way, as a matter of power?
How is it that this understanding can extend its reach so far, so fully, so beyond question?
What is its origin? Its ground? Its warrant?


Among the most thought-provoking manifestations of this distinctive and pervasive understanding are the way in which truth and right have become subsumed into the account of power, such that they are each taken, from the outset, as but sites, occasions, prizes, or instances of power and its exercise.

What is truth? How has it come to be understood, now?
What is right? How has it come to be understood, now?
How have we arrived at these understandings?
What guides, yields, or directs them? What can?


Attending to the understandings of truth and of right that modern thought prescribes and requires, we shall come to wonder at what truth, and right, are and may yet be. We shall thereby be brought to wonder at the scope, source, and direction of the course of modern thought, given over to articulating and analyzing a world constituted by power, and at the authority by which this thinking is directed. And as we contemplate where the course of modern thought has brought us, we shall be brought to wonder as well at who we are, that we have come to think on these matters – as on all else – as we do.

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

Please note: All students interested in taking this class — whether pre-enrolled, wait-listed, or neither — are to attend the first class meeting, 2-5 p.m. on Monday, January 28.
The course is an intensive seminar; prepared, participatory attendance is obligatory. Students are advised to plan their schedules accordingly. In addition, students should be aware that wide-ranging collective discussions, often lasting an hour or more, will generally occur during office hours held after class on Monday afternoons. In past classes, students have found these informal but intense discussions to be of substantial help in coming to terms with difficult material encountered in the course. Students are strongly encouraged to plan their schedules so as to be able to attend these sessions. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the course.

*** This course fulfills the History and Theory or Public Discourse concentration