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    Macalester College
   
 
  Sep 21, 2017
 
 
    
College Catalog 2014-2015 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

GERM 337 - Dead White Men

Cross-Listed as MCST 337 
Today we often hear people dismiss the Western (mostly European) philosophical tradition as a bunch of “dead white men.” In other words, the argument goes, these thinkers harbored such passe notions as universal truths, a universal subject, and an individual in total control of itself and endowed with a pure reason unadulterated by rhetoric, imagination, fiction, and politics. Why should we bother with “dead white men” now that we understand that truth depends on historical context, that the self is decentered by the unconscious, that identity is constituted by gender, race, class, and other cultural factors, that truth is linked to power, and that ideology is omnipresent? Unfortunately, this all-too-familiar attitude overlooks its own faulty presupposition: it presumes a clear-cut break between philosophical tradition and contemporary thought, as if contemporary thought had no tradition out of which it emerged and could, therefore, merely discard what preceded it. Hence the popularity of phrases like “philosophy is dead.” It is all the more ironic to see this attitude prevail in the West at the very moment that multiculturalism has become our cause celebre : all cultural traditions are supposed to be “respected,” except the West’s own tradition. (Perhaps as a new way for the West to reinstate surreptitiously its superiority as the sole culture with no tradition?) This course pursues a close reading of texts by various “dead white men” as the unconscious (i.e., repressed and, for that matter, all the more powerful) undercurrent of contemporary thought. Assigned texts will include: Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Marx, as well as texts by twentieth-century thinkers that stress the dependence of contemporary thought on philosophy. No pre-knowledge required; all readings in English. With different reading lists this course may be taken more than once for credit . Alternate years. (4 Credits)