Power and Critique
NYU, advanced undergraduate lecture course, Spring 2018
It’s a familiar idea that philosophical inquiry is a form of critique, but this idea has been developed in a number of different ways in the wake of Kant’s influence through the 19th and 20th centuries. In this course we analyze these different interpretations of philosophy as a distinctively critical enterprise. Critique, we shall see, finds its target in relations of power that impede or thwart our exercise of freedom as rational beings. Accordingly, we will examine how the different conceptions of critique are based on different conceptions of power. Furthermore, we will analyze how different conceptions of power arise from divergent metaphysical views regarding the relationships between rational agency and social practices. In particular, we will study the juridical model of power in Anglophone political philosophy and the economic conception of power in the Marxist tradition, and based on Foucault’s criticism of both we will explore a third alternative.
Our key questions include: How is philosophy as critique related to normative inquiry? How do epistemic and evaluative practices depend on social relations? Can we criticize concepts? What’s the relationship between critique and historical genealogy? How should we conceptualize the distinction between freedom and power? Our readings will include Marx, Horkheimer, Adorno, Foucault, and philosophers pursuing the practice of critique today such as Haslanger.
The Normal and the Pathological:
Epistemology and Ethics of the Psy-sciences
NYU, graduate seminar, Fall 2017
This seminar inquires into the metaphysics of norms by critically examining the sustained attempt in the psy-sciences to produce knowledge about the norms of human life. Our guiding questions include: Are there biological norms? How might we be able to identify them (quantitatively, qualitatively, functionally)? Is the psychiatric distinction between the normal and the pathological epistemically independent of mundane, often implicit, normative attitudes of a culture? Does theoretical reasoning about human action limit the autonomy of human agents?
On the basis of our study of these questions, we will critically evaluate the epistemic credentials and ethical implications of the diagnostic practice of contemporary psychiatry as it is represented in the latest edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. We will do this with special attention to the metaphysics of human kinds.
Our readings will be key texts from the nascent field of the philosophy of psychiatry, together with Georges Canguilhem’s pioneering study The Normal and the Pathological.
From Hegel to Nietzsche
NYU, undergraduate lecture course, Spring 2017
A thematic survey of the history of nineteenth-century German philosophy on the basis of texts by Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Key themes included: the role of concepts in human experience, social conditions of knowledge, historical teleology, freedom, relations of power, suffering, the nature of willing, the problem of nihilism, and genealogy.
Introduction to Existentialism
NYU, advanced undergraduate lecture course, Fall 2016
A historical and systematic overview of central existentialist topics — anxiety, freedom, authenticity, absurdity of life, nihilism, death, and relations of power — based on texts by Heidegger, Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, and Beauvoir.
Rules, Autonomy, and Metaphysics of Normativity
University of Chicago, advanced undergraduate seminar, spring 2013
It is a philosophical commonplace to use the expression ‘space of reasons’ to highlight the normative character of rationality in contrast to a notion of nature as a system of causal (or probabilistic) laws. Yet one may wonder whether this distinction entails a dualistic metaphysics where two spheres of reality are so separated that a connection between them becomes unintelligible. In this course, we examine a strategy to avoid such a dualism by explaining the normative standards of reasoning in terms of normative attitudes. After locating the origin of this strategy in Kant's notion of autonomy we will examine whether it ought to be elaborated rather in terms of a social practice. In particular, we will critically evaluate the promise of this general approach on the basis of three main challenges.
(1) The normativity of reasoning cannot be explained exhaustively in terms of a self-conscious activity of rule-following, because in that case any rule for the application of a rule would require another rule for its own application, and infinitely so. (2) It cannot be completely up to one to decide which normative standards one is bound to, because that would preclude the possibility of error and thus obliterate normativity. (3) Proposals that seek to overcome these two challenges by modeling reasoning as a discursive practice, accounting for its normative structure on the basis of social statuses of commitment and entitlement, escape the received distinction between freedom as rational constraint and power as constraint due to an external force.
Finally, we will investigate the limits of this explanatory strategy by asking to what extent normative attitudes can be understood as elements in the natural history of the human species. We will read texts by Kant, Rousseau, Sellars, Ryle, Brandom, McDowell, Foucault, Canguilhem, Dennett, and others.