Philosophy | Ninteenth Century Philosophy
P526 | 28457 | Shapshay, Sandra

PHIL P526, 19th-century Philosophy: Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche
This course focuses on three major philosophers of the late 18th and
19th centuries: Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Their thought will
also be contextualized with reference to Schiller, Hegel, and
important secondary literature.
Kant famously ushered in an anthropocentric epistemology, which
placed strict limits on what could be known. His doctrine of
Transcendental Idealism holds famously that the mind shapes the
world that we experience in very fundamental ways, and that,
accordingly, we can only cognize or know objects as they appear to
us, not as they are “in themselves.” About those things as they
are “in themselves” humans can have no knowledge save that they
The history of 19th-century Continental philosophy can be justly
characterized as a series of attempts to overcome Kant’s
epistemological limits, to gain ‘absolute’ or ‘unconditioned’
knowledge of the world as it is in itself.  Schopenhauer for one
claims that things in themselves reduce to unindividuated thing-in-
itself and identifies it with “will” [der Wille], the ontological
substratum of reality—a blind, striving, force, akin to energy.
Special emphasis will be given in this course to the increasingly
important role that art and aesthetic experience played for these
philosophers in gaining an insight into the world as it is “in
itself.”  After setting up the relevant background to Kant’s 3rd
Critique, we will examine its arguments and how he saw this work as
providing a bridge over the “incalculable gulf” between nature and
freedom left in the wake of the 1st and 2nd Critiques.
Next, we will compare and contrast the Kantian manner of “bridging
the gulf” with that of Schiller in his Letters on the Aesthetic
Education of Humankind, before turning to an investigation of
Schopenhauer’s philosophy in volumes I and II of The World as Will
and Representation and the greater epistemological claims for art
and aesthetic experience (especially the experience of music) that
he makes in the context of his philosophical system.  Finally, the
course will examine the legacy of Schopenhauer’s philosophy and
especially his theory of art in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, which
culminates in the rather shocking thought that “only as an aesthetic
phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified” (BT
section 5).
In order to apprise students of interpretive debates, to model
various ways of engaging with the history of philosophy, and to
afford students a sense of the contemporary relevance of these
thinkers, throughout the course we will read important secondary
literature by scholars such as Henry Allison, Arthur Danto,
Christopher Janaway, Paul Guyer, Ted Cohen, Alexander Nehamas,
Julian Young and Rachel Zuckert, among others.

Course requirements will include a class presentation, approximately
4 short on-line “discussion reports” on particular sections from the
primary texts or from the secondary literature, and the student’s
choice of either two short (7-10 page) papers or one long term