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Subjectivity and Modern Philosophy


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy.

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Humanities


This course will focus on the evolution of the notion of subjectivity throughout the history of modern philosophy – specifically, from Descartes up to and including Nietzsche. Having examined Descartes’s cogito and his dualism, we will consider Pascal’s, Spinoza’s and Hume’s objections thereto. Subsequently, we will analyse Kant’s attempt to overcome the opposition between Descartes and Hume by examining his notion of the transcendental subject. Finally, our focus will turn to some of the most notable responses to Kant – namely, those we find in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil.

In the first place, we will be trying to address a number of descriptive questions, such as, for example: How do the key modern philosophers conceptually map out the self? And how do they conceive of things such as personhood, the passions, character, the unconscious, free will etc.? Alongside this, there will also be an epistemological aspect to our study of modern philosophy. That is to say, we will be inquiring as to the consequences of modern philosophy’s various conceptions of the self for theories of knowledge and truth, as well as trying to ascertain how modern philosophers thought essential knowledge of the self to be in any way possible. Finally, the course will bring these issues to bear on problems within the field of ethics. This dimension of the course will seek to determine the relevance of the different conceptions of the self for an individual’s ethical/moral existence. In tandem with this part of the investigation, we will assess the tools that modern philosophers give us for improving our subjective constitution, or, in other words, for cultivating a healthier, flourishing self.

Course objectives

This course aims to:

  • analyse the evolution of the conception of subjectivity throughout the course of modern philosophy;

  • examine the way in which our conception of the self has ramifications for our ethical existence;

  • assess the relevance of our conception of the self for our epistemology;

  • scrutinise the objections that various modern thinkers have formulated in response to one another’s theories of subjectivity.

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

  • the myriad ways in which subjectivity can be conceptualized;

  • how the notion of the self developed throughout the course of modern philosophy (from Descartes to Nietzsche).

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • clearly formulate (both orally and in writing) philosophical arguments regarding subjectivity;

  • write a research paper;

  • use secondary literature to address a philosophical problem.


See: MA Philosophy 60 EC
See: MA Philosophy 120 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending lectures (13 x 3 hrs): 39 hours

  • Preparatory reading (13 x 10 hrs): 130 hours

  • Preparation of presentation: 31 hours

  • Final assessment (5000-word research paper): 80 hours

Assessment method


  • One oral examination (ca. 20-30mins)

  • One research paper (5000 words)

Attendance is required to pass the course (though two explained absences will be permitted).


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (midterm, final test).

  • Oral examination: 30%

  • Research paper: 70%


The resit will consist of a 5000-word research paper, which will count for the final research paper.
The grades for other exam component (oral examination) remains in place.

Attendance and completion of practical assignments such as the oral presentation is a mandatory requirement for taking the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Distributing the reading and course materials

  • Making announcements

  • Giving feedback on assessments (via Turnitin)

Reading list

All reading materials will be uploaded onto Blackboard at least one week in advance of the class in which that material will be covered; hence, no texts need to be purchased. The primary texts that we will study are as follows:

  • Descartes, René, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. and ed. by John Cottingham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • Hegel, G.W.F., Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. by A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).

  • Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975).

  • Kant, Emmanuel, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil, ed. by Rolf-Peter Horstmann and Judith Norman, trans. by Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

  • Pascal, Blaise, Pensées and other Writings, trans. by Honor Levi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

  • Schopenhauer, Arthur, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1. Trans. and ed. by Judith Norman, Alistair Welchman and Christopher Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

  • Spinoza, Baruch de, Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr James S. Pearson


Not applicable.