Syllabus of “History of Modern Western Philosophy 2 : Positivism to Postmodernism”

History of Modern Western Philosophy 2

Positivism to Postmodernism

Course Description

History of Modern Western Philosophy 2: Positivism to Postmodernism is a course that emphasises modern western philosophy both in its historical development and its philosophical problems. It is designed to include two notable approaches in exploring history of modern western philosophy, namely: historical approach and thematic one. These two approaches are reflected in this course through the partitioning of history of ideas and philosophical problems. It is to be expected that these combination would in the end allow extensive exploration and intensive investigation on the interaction and interplay amongst the philosophers as well as of the philosophers and their philosophies.

The course defines ‘modern’ as from Descartes onwards and delineates what is termed as ‘western’ into three countries considered to be more productive in philosophical works in Europe, namely: Britain, Germany, and France. It further explores modern western philosophy from the nineteenth century to the emergence of postmodernism and philosophical works published up to 1980s.

This course though acknowledges, until recent times, the gulf between the so-called analytical and continental philosophies, it intends to go beyond such misleading dichotomy and in its stead it attempts to take advantage of the excellence and distinction of each strand of philosophy.

The course is designed to provide students not only with necessary extensive exploration on notable philosophers and key philosophical ideas, but it is intended to further advance their own philosophical skills for independent thinking and the capability to dare to be wise.

Course Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, a student is expected to have acquired the following:

  • Conversance with the main strands of modern western philosophers and their philosophies from Positivism to Postmodernism.
  • Have a good understanding of the development, interaction and interplay of modern western philosophy from its philosophical, historical, political, social, and cultural contexts.
  • Have acquired knowledge and learned various philosophers and philosophical problems which later perhaps be used to develop as critical foundation for further examination and reflection on philosophical thinking.
  • Have developed an attitude of critical self-awareness about the possibilities of our intellectual tools and methods for philosophical understanding of issues in modern western philosophy.

Course Prerequisites

Prior to undertaking this course, students are advised to have completed any or some of the following courses:

  • Introduction to Philosophy
  • History of Modern Western Philosophy 1

Course Requirements

The course is composed of considerable material both in the lectures and in the readings. It is assumed that students who register in the course will be obliged to fulfil minimum requirement of attendance and will be required to prepare all the readings before they arrive in class. To further motivate the preparation, there would be quizzes, class homework, group presentations, and group discussions to be conducted during the semester. The course can be expected to be highly appreciative of active participation and effective engagement demonstrated by sedulous students.


The assessment for History of Modern Western Philosophy 2: Positivism to Postmodernism is determined to be based on the following:

Attendance 10%
Presentation and participation 20%
Mid term essay 35%
Final term essay 35%

Course Policies

The course holds to the belief that excellence in learning can be achieved in an intellectual environment where academic integrity is highly valued and carefully upheld. Consequently, all assignments, projects, reports, papers and examinations submitted to this course are expected to be the student’s own work. Students should always take great care to distinguish their own ideas and knowledge from information derived from sources. Students are responsible for educating themselves about plagiarism and will be held accountable for any consequences arising from deriliction and non-observance.

Methods of Instruction

In this course the methods of instruction will be composed of: lecture presentation, group presentation, group discussions, interactive dialogues, and audiovisual presentations.


The course includes provision for consultations on academic issues pertaining to the lectures, the readings, and the course. Two hours in each week are allocated for this particular purpose. It will be made available on one hour before and one hour after the lecture. Students are welcome to contact the lecturer during working hours or through electronic means.

Required Readings

The required readings necessary for the course are composed of primary references, secondary references, audiovisual materials, and online resources. Students who enrol in this course are assumed to be internet literate and are expected to be able to take maximum advantage of online resources made available by the college. Secondary references are listed separately and be made available upon request.

Audiovisual materials during the duration of this course will be presented in the class and are consisted of the following films:

  • Human All Too Human: Nietzsche (extraction)
  • Human All Too Human: Sartre (extraction)
  • Human All Too Human:  Heidegger (extraction)

The primary references are methodologically prepared to provide perspectives and to allow students to work towards becoming independent readers that acquire rudimentary knowledge and understandings of the course. They are the following:

  • Blackburn, Simon, 2001, Think, Oxford University Press
  • Bowie, Andrew, 2003, Introduction to German Philosophy: from Kant to Habermas, Polity Press: Cambridge
  • Bunnin, Nicholas, and Tsui-James, E.P. (eds.), 2003, The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy, Blackwell: Oxford
  • Burrow, J.W., 2000, The Crisis of Reason: European Thought 1848-1914, Yale University Press: New Haven
  • Canfield, John V. (ed), 2003, Philosophy of Meaning, Knowledge and Value in the Twentieth Century, Routledge History of Philosophy volume 10, Routledge: London
  • Delacampagne, C., 1999, A History of Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore
  • Dreyfus, Hubert L., and Wrathall, Mark A., 2006, A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, Blackwell Publishing: Oxford
  • Grayling, A.C. (ed), 1998, Philosophy 1: A Guide Through the Subject, Oxford University Press: Oxford
  • Grayling, A.C. (ed), 1998, Philosophy 2: A Guide Through the Subject, Oxford University Press: Oxford
  • Kearney, Richard (ed), 2003, Continental Philosophy in the 20th Century, Routledge History of Philosophy volume 8, Routledge: London
  • Kenny, Anthony, 2007, A New History of Western Philosophy volume 4: Philosophy in the Modern World, Oxford University Press: Oxford
  • Martinich, A.P. and Sosa, David (eds), 2001, A Companion to Analytic Philosophy, Blackwell Publishing: Oxford
  • Richardson, Alan and Uebel, Thomas, 2007, The Cambridge Companion to Logical Empiricism, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
  • Rush, Fred (ed), 2004, The Cambridge Companion to Critical Theory, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
  • Shand, John, 1993, Philosophy and Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy, University College London Press: London
  • Shanker, Stuart (ed), 2003, Philosophy of Science, Logic and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century, Routledge History of Philosophy volume 9, Routledge: London
  • Stroll, Avrum, 2000, Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy, Columbia University Press: New York
  • Ten, C.L. (ed), 2003, The Nineteenth Century, Routledge History of Philosophy volume 7, Routledge: London

Course Content

The content of the course represented various topics discussed which are arranged as follows:

Part I. History of Ideas

  • Crisis of European thought
  • Landscape of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophical thought
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • James Mill
  • John Stuarat Mill
  • Henry Sidgwick
  • Auguste Comte
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Wilhelm Dilthey
  • Charles Sanders Pierce
  • William James
  • British idealists: TH Green, Bernard Bosanquet, FH Bradley
  • Edmund Husserl
  • Gottlob Frege
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • Logical positivists: Vienna Circle, AJ Ayer
  • Martin Heidegger
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty
  • Marxism Philosophers: VI Lenin, Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser
  • Critical Theory: Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Jurgen Habermas
  • Hermeneutics: Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur
  • French Structuralism and Post-Structuralism: Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault
  • Jacques Derrida and deconstruction
  • Postmodern Theory: Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Richard Rorty, Gilles Deleuze

Part II. Philosophical Problems

  • Epistemology
  • Metaphysics
  • Philosophy of language
  • Political philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Applied Ethics
  • Feminist philosophy
  • Philosophy of law
  • Philosophy of religion

Course schedule

The schedule of the course is arranged as follows:

Week Description Readings
1 Introduction

Part I. History of ideas

  • Crisis of reason
  • Landscape of 19-20th century thought



  • Jeremy Bentham
  • James Mill
  • John Stuart Mill
Ten: ch.1

Ten: ch.3-4

  • Sidgwick
  • Comte
  • Nietzsche
Ten: ch.5

Ten: ch.6.

Ten: ch.7

  • Dilthey
  • Peirce
  • James
Ten: ch.8

Ten: ch.12

Ten: ch.13

  • British Idealists: Green, Bosanquet, Bradley
  • Husserl
Ten: ch.14-15

Kearney: ch.1

  • Frege
  • Russell
Shanker: ch.1-3
  • Wittgenstein
  • Logical positivism
Shanker: ch.4

Canfield: ch.8

Shanker: ch.5

  • Heidegger
  • Sartre
  • Merleau-Ponty
Kearney: ch.2

Kearney: ch.3

Kearney: ch.4

  • Marxism
  • Critical Theory
  • Hermeneutics
Kearney: ch.7

Kearney: ch.8

Kearney: ch.9

  • French Structuralism
  • Derrida and Deconstruction
  • Postmodernist Theory
Kearney: ch.11

Kearney: ch.13

Kearney: ch.14

11 Part II. Philosophical problems

  • Epistemology
  • Metaphysics
Canfield: ch.7

Canfield: ch.3-4

  • Philosophy of language
  • Political philosophy
Canfield: ch.1-2

Canfield: ch.9

  • Ethics
  • Applied Ethics
Canfield: ch.5-6

Canfield: ch.12

  • Philosophy of Physics
  • Philosophy of Science
Shanker: ch.6

Shanker: ch.7

Kearney: ch.6

  • Feminist philosophy
  • Philosophy of law

Canfield: ch.10

Canfield: ch.11

  • Philosophy of religion
  • Epilog
Kearney: ch.5

Canfield: ch.14


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