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Contemporary French Philosophy


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Modern European Philosophy

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Humanities


In the 20th and 21st centuries, a significative part of the so-called continental philosophy has been written in French. In three waves, French philosophy was stimulated by philosophy written in German (German Idealism, Nietzsche, Husserl's and Heidegger's phenomenology), but each time, the French appropriation of German thinking led to important new developments that exceeded the original impulse and opened wholly new areas of philosophy. French philosophy often evolved in an interdisciplinary context in which philosophy was also driven by the prevailing existential, social and political situation, by the last developments in human and life sciences, as well as by contemporary art. The philosophical innovations that characterize 20th century French philosophy can only be understood against this background: philosophy cannot only comment on its own history but it must speak of and to the contemporary world.

In this lecture course, we will examine the contemporary world from the point of view of truth. Of course, truth has always been a central concern of philosophy. However, today it sometimes seems that truth is not only a research object of philosophy but its mission in an epoch in which scientific and historical truths are constantly contested by outright lies defended as "alternative truths", "post-truths" or simply expressions of "freedom of speech". Recently some polemists have attributed the erosion of the value of truth to French philosophy written after 1950, labeled "postmodernism", "poststructuralism", "deconstruction", etc. In this lecture course we will see why the idea of the abandon of truth in contemporary French philosophy is either a misunderstanding or a malevolent slander. In this current of philosophy, different truth claims and pretenses have certainly been examined and contested. However, questioning the value of truth does not mean abandoning it but refining and re-defining it. Perhaps this critical work could also help in the task of understanding and countering the present-day erosion of truth.

In mid-20th century French philosophy truth is above all conditioned by language. Language is not simply an obedient tool of thinking but it contributes to thinking, to the point that language is examined as the destiny of philosophy. In important debates with dialectics and phenomenology, especially Derrida, Deleuze, Glissant and Irigaray showed why language cannot be explained only by reference to the philosophical intention and signification. To understand its functioning, one should also look at sciences of language, especially structuralist linguistics, and other human sciences. One should also pay attention to the historical and local conditions of thinking, as shown by Foucault and Descola. On the other hand as Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe, Blanchot and Cixous have shown, language should also be studied in relation to literature which is the great domain of experimentation with language. We will also see that interest in language does not mean disinterest in truth and sense, on the contrary, but a need to reformulate the very conditions of truth and language so that they are capable of expressing the complexity of the contemporary world. In the end, we will ask if the reformulations of truth lead to reformulations of ontology, as Nancy and Malabou have suggested.

Course objectives

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

  • the principal authors of post-war French philosophy;

  • the new formulations of knowledge, language, mimesis and being produced in this tradition.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • understand the stakes and the often novatory and even experimental argumentative strategies of post-war French philosophy;

  • apply these philosophical approaches to contemporary situations.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Seminars

The sessions will take the form of lectures by the instructor and seminar discussions of key texts. Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Active participation in class

  • Two written examinations (midterm and final) with essay questions


  • Midterm examination 50 %

  • Final examination 50 %


The resit consists of written examination with essay questions. It counts as 100% of the grade, overwriting all previous graded exam components.

Attendance and active participation in class is required for admission to 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

The students will be asked to read the following articles or extracts of books:

Colebrook, Claire, "The Linguistic Turn in Continental Philosophy". In Schrift, Alan D., The History of Continental Philosophy. Chicago: Chicago University Press 2010, volume 6.

Derrida, La voix et le phénomène, chapter 3 (optional supplementary reading: chapter 5). Trans., Leonard Lawlor, Voice and Phenomenon, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2011

Derrida, "De l'économie restreinte à l'économie générale", in L'écriture et la différence, Paris, Seuil, 1967. Tr. Alan Bass, "From restricted to general economy: A Hegelianism without reserve," in Writing and Difference, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978.

Gilles Deleuze, Introduction à Différence et répétition, Paris, PUF, 1968. Tr. Paul Patton, Introduction to Difference and Repetition, London and New York, Continuum, 2001.

Derrida: "Différance", in Marges de la philosophie, Paris, Minuit, 1972, tr. Alan Bass, "Différance", in Margins of Philosophy, Chicago, Harvester Press, 1982.

Foucault: Préface à Les mots et les choses, Paris, Gallimard, 1966. Tr. Preface to The Order of Things, an Archaeology of Human Sciences, New York and London, Routledge, 2005.

Maurice Blanchot: Chapter 7 "La littérature et l'expérience originelle," dans L'espace littéraire, Paris, Gallimard, 1955, pp. 277-334. Tr. Ann Smock, "Literature and the originary experience, in The Space of literature, Lincoln, London, University of Nebraska Press, 1989, pp. 209-248

Deleuze, Simulacre et philosophie antique, in Logique du sens, Paris, Minuit, 1969; Tr. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, Appendix The simulacrum in Ancient Philosophy, in The Logic of Sense, London, The Athlone Press, 1990.

Blanchot, "Les deux versions de l'imaginaire" dans L'espace littéraire (op. cit pp. 341-356). Tr. "The Two versions of the imaginary", in The Space of literature (op. cit., pp. 254-263).

Jacques Derrida, Glas, (Paris: Galilée, 1974). There are two English translations: Glas, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. & Richard Rand (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986) and Clang, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and David Wills, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021)

Cixous, Hélène, "Le rire de la Méduse" (1975), in Le rire de la Méduse et autres ironies, Paris, Galilée, 2010. Tr. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 1976, vol 1, 4, p. 875-893.

Irigaray Luce. Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un. In: Les Cahiers du GRIF, n°5, 1974. Les femmes font la fête font la grève. pp. 54-58. Tr. Catherine Porter and Carolyn Burke, This sex which is not one, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Edouard Glissant, "Creolization in the making of Americas". Caribbean Quarterly, March - June, 2008, Vol. 54, No. 1/2, The 60th Anniversary Edition: Literature and Ideas (March - June, 2008), pp. 81-89.

Derrida, Jacques, Le monolinguisme de l’autre, Paris: Galilée, 1996. Trans., Patrick Mensah, Monolinguism of the Other, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe, "Diderot. Le paradoxe et la mimesis", in L'imitation des modernes. Typographies 2. Paris, Galilée, 1986. Tr. "Diderot: Paradox and Mimesis", in Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics, Stanford UP, 1998.

Nancy, Jean-Luc, chapitres "Sens et la vérité" et "Style philosophique" dans Le sens du monde. Paris: Galilée, 1993. Tr. The Sense of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. Tr. Jeffrey Libett, Sense and truth" and "philosophical style", in The Sense of the World. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Malabou, Catherine, La Plasticité au soir de l'écriture (Paris: Éditions Léo Scheer, 2004). Trans. Carolyn Shread, Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, Destruction, Deconstruction, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

The texts will be read at home and discussed in class. The knowledge of French is not required.

Further literature will be published on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • 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.