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Twentieth Century French Philosophy


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including History of Modern Philosophy, Cultuurfilosofie, Continentale filosofie, Philosophy of Mind.

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Philosophy of Culture, Concepts of Selfhood, and at least one of the courses World Philosophies: China, World Philosophies: India, World Philosophies: Africa, World Philosophies: Middle East.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement and who have to complete an advanced seminar, to be selected from package A.


In this course, we will approach the oeuvre of the French philosopher Michel Foucault as a coherent system of concepts that slowly emerges over time: a critical ontology of the present. It is true that, with each new book, Foucault seems to reinterpret his entire philosophical system, creating a new set of concepts that do not necessarily map onto the concepts he introduced before. We will start from the assumption that this is an inherent feature of Foucault’s philosophy: a different problem will necessitate a different set of concepts. Nevertheless, the overall framework within which Foucault’s research takes place, remains concerned with what he at one point called a ‘critical ontology of the present.’ This ontology can be organized around three intertwined axes that keep complicating each other.

  1. An archaeology of knowledge which investigates the conditions of knowledge and how these conditions determine what can be said and what can be seen in a certain period, at a certain locality.
  2. A genealogy of power which interrogates how we are constituted as agents who are involved in the government of the living, both as active participants and as passive receivers.
  3. A hermeneutics of subjectification which inquires how we are constituted as ethical agents who govern ourselves by applying a certain number of operations – techniques of the self – to our own bodies in order to transform ourselves.

It will not be possible to study each of these axes in their full detail. Instead, this course will provide a general overview of the framework, illustrated with particular cases drawn from Foucault’s works. We will do this in two steps. (a) For each axis, we will start with the analysis of a minor work. As they minor texts are easier to process, they will allow us to get a good first grasp of the general principles of Foucault. (b) For each axis, we will follow this up with an analysis of selections from Foucault’s major works in which the same principles are at work, but in a more complicated constellation. This double movement will give us a sense of whole, without losing touch with the nuance of the small details.

Course objectives

This course aim to provide the students with a clear view of:

  • the way in which Foucault develop a critical ontology of the present throughout his oeuvre;

  • the rationale behind this ontology of the present (and why it requires studying the past);

  • a framework for developing their own interpretation of Foucault’s oeuvre.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the new way in which Foucault approaches knowledge and the Kantian background against which this can be understood;

  • the new conception of a microphysics of power Foucault introduced and how this differs from traditional conceptions of power;

  • the new approach that Foucault develops towards subjectification and how this changes the way in which the self is understood.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance and active participation is required.

Assessment method


  • Small research project (2.000 words) in which students are invited to adopt Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge to the study of a topic of their own choice

  • Final essay (3.500 words)

Non-graded practical exercises:

  • Active participation in class

  • Preparing a set of comments/questions for at least one of the seminars

  • Handing in a proposal for the final essay and discuss it in smaller groups

  • Writing a peer review of at least two of the proposals of other students

These exercises will not be graded, but are required for getting admission to the exam (final paper).


  • Research project (30%)

  • Final essay (70%)

The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the two subtests.


The resit consists of one examination for all parts at once (100%), consisting of paper of 5,000 words. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for subtest. Class participation is required for taking the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Selections from Foucault’s works:

  • Dits et écrits I, 1954-1975.

  • Death And The Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel, 1963.

  • The Birth of the Clinic (Naissance de la clinique), 1963.

  • The Order of Things (Les Mots et les choses), 1966.

  • The Archaeology of knowledge (L’Archéologie du savoir), 1969.

  • Lectures at Collège de France (Cours au Collège de France), 1970-1984.

  • Discourse on Language (L’ordre du discours) in 1971.

  • This is not a Pipe (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), 1973.

  • Discipline and Punish (Surveiller et punir), 1975.

  • Dits et écrits II, 1976-1984.

  • The History of Sexuality (L’Histoire de la sexualité)
    o I. The Will to Knowledge (La Volonté de savoir), 1976.
    o II. The Use of Pleasure (L'Usage des plaisirs), 1984.
    o III. The Care of the Self (Le Souci de soi), 1984.
    o IV. Confessions of the Flesh (Les Aveux de la chair), 2018, posthumous.

Other Sources:

  • Blanchot, Maurice. Michel Foucault as I imagine him (Michel Foucault tel que je l'imagine), 1986.

  • Deleuze Gilles. Foucault, 1986.

  • Veyne, Paul. Michel Foucault: His Thought, His Character (Michel Foucault. Sa pensée, sa personne), 2008.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is not possible for this course. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.