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What is Thinking? Continental Conceptions


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including: Philosophy of Mind or Concepts of Selfhood.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


This course covers different conceptions – from the Continental tradition – of the nature, structure, purpose and relevance of thinking.

The topic for the 2021-2022 edition is: Dialectics – its nature, history and contemporary relevance.
In this course we examine the nature, history and contemporary relevance of dialectical thought. The course consists of three parts:

1) The largest, central part of the course will be an investigation of Hegel’s dialectics. What every introduction to Hegel will tell you is that dialectics is not reducible to a scheme of “thesis-antithesis-synthesis”. Hegel (in)famously denied that the (dialectical) method of philosophy can be presupposed, described beforehand, or distinguished from the actual carrying-out of philosophical thought. This complicates any attempt at giving a general account of what dialectics means for Hegel. To solve the problem, secondary literature often resorts to some of the general characterizations found in introductions to (and final chapters of) Hegel’s works – a strategy with obvious shortcomings. We will choose a different route and take seriously Hegel’s warning that philosophical method cannot be distinguished from its object, by focusing less on the introductions and rather studying concrete chapters from different stages of the philosophical development, in order to arrive at a more concrete idea of the nature and efficacy of dialectical thought. We will be reading from different works by Hegel but our focus will be on the ‘shorter logic’ of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences , before exploring how and why for Hegel all domains of philosophy (including practical philosophy) involve a ‘logic’. What we will show is that it is not just difficult to arrive at a general idea of dialectics on principle, but that it its actual carrying out dialectical thought was for Hegel indeed an essentially multifaceted and hetergoneneous endeavor.

2) The readings of Hegel will be supplemented and contrasted with shorter readings of different conceptions of dialectical thought from the philosophical tradition (Plato, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus, Kant).

3) Finally, many different forms of 20th-century Continental philosophy have defined themselves in opposition to Hegelian dialectics. Therefore, the course as a whole works towards answering the question wherein the contemporary relevance of dialectical thought could consist, in light of some of the most important post-Hegelian criticisms of dialectical thought from the Continental tradition.

Course objectives

This course aims to investigate the nature, different historical conceptions, and contemporary relevance of dialectics.

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

  • different historical conceptions of dialectical thought;

  • the nature, efficacy and limits of Hegelian dialectics at different stages of Hegel’s works;

  • main arguments against dialectical thought from the 20th-century Continental tradition;

  • the possible contemporary relevance of dialectical thought today.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • recognize the similarities, differences, values and limits of various forms of dialectical thought and use this knowledge in discussion;

  • formulate an independent critical position with respect to Hegelian dialectics and its critiques;

  • present this knowledge in written form;

  • apply this knowledge to contemporary concerns and formulate an independent critical position with respect to the contemporary relevance of dialectics.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Mid-term take home exam

  • Final take home exam or short paper


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

  • Mid-term take home exam: 50%

  • Final take home exam or short paper: 50%


Students qualify for a resit if they do not have a passing final grade but have fulfilled all (other) course requirements. The resit consists of one take-home exam covering all course content. No separate resits will be offered for subtests. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) 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

  • Relevant course literature will be made available online.


Enrolment through uSis for this course is not possible. 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.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • 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.