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Critical Theory


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, OR including History of Modern Philosophy, (Griekse en Romeinse filosofie or History of Political Philosophy), Ethiek, Politieke filosofie / Political Philosophy.

  • 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, OR including World Philosophies: Greek and Roman Antiquity, World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Ethics, Political Philosophy.

  • 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 or B.


‘Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.’ This motto written by Karl Marx became the starting point of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. But is it really possible to use critical thought to change the world? What is the relation between philosophy, politics and society? How can we reflect critically on our society when our minds and the very concepts we use are shaped by that same society?

In this course we will engage with these questions through discussions of the central thinkers of the Frankfurt School and related social-critical philosophers. We will start with some of the main influences on the Frankfurt School – Hegel, Marx and Freud – and then read influential texts by Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer. After discussing the influential debate between Foucault and Habermas, we will end by engaging with contemporary critical theorists.

Central questions to be discussed include: what is the nature of power? What is rationality, and do we need it to be critical? Is it possible to be free, or are we inevitably shaped and determined by our psychic constitution, by historical necessity or by social institutions? How does ideology work, what is the ‘culture industry’, and how do these contribute to supressing radical social change?

Course objectives

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

  • the claims and positions of central thinkers in the Critical Theory tradition;

  • the relations between these authors and their position in a broader philosophical and social context.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • take a critically argued position regarding the ideas and arguments of thinkers in the Critical Theory tradition, both orally and in writing;

  • develop a clear, relevant and original research question in relation to the topic and write a well researched essay answering this question.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Weekly discussion questions on the readings (20%)

  • Written assignments preparing for the final paper (20%)

  • Final research paper (60%)

  • Class presentation: pass/fail, required to pass the course


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit consists of a paper and counts as 80% of the grade. The weekly written questions are not replaced by 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

To be purchased:

  • Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Other literature will be made available through Brightspace.


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 information bar at the right hand side of the page.

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


Not applicable.