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Modernity and Postmodernity


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.


How can we understand our present historical situation? What does it mean to be modern? And is the time we live in, often described as ‘postmodern’, fundamentally different compared to thirty, fifty or a hundred years ago? Culturally, postmodernity has been described as ‘liquid’ (Zygmunt Bauman), a time when all fixed structures, identities and truths have disappeared and we humans float aimlessly on currents of technological and economic change that we cannot control. Philosophically, postmodernity is often characterized by ‘the end of grand narratives’ and the critique of belief in universal truth and rationality.

But was not modernity itself already an assault on traditional dogma’s and authority that caused, as Marx and Engels worded it, ‘all that is solid to melt into air’? Is postmodernity simply a continuation of developments that already shaped modernity, a more thoroughgoing form of philosophical and social criticism? Or is it a dangerous lapse into irrationalism and relativism, a matter of, as critics have it, ‘fashionable nonsense’?

In this course, we will explore the meanings of modernity and postmodernity and engage critically with the philosophical debate regarding these notions. Through a reading of key philosophical and sociological texts, we will discuss the social, political, cultural and philosophical features of ‘modernity’ (e.g. Condorcet, Kant, Weber, Habermas, Giddens) as well as of ‘postmodernity’ (e.g. Lyotard, Derrida, Jameson, Harvey, Foucault). In addition, we will reflect on what our understanding of ourselves as ‘modern’ or ‘postmodern’ means for contemporary philosophical theory and political practice (e.g. Butler, Benhabib, Rorty, Rosa).

Course objectives

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

  • philosophical and sociological discussions regarding the nature of ‘modernity’ and ‘postmodernity’ and the relation between them;

  • the cultural, historical, technological and philosophical developments that shaped the ‘modern’ and ‘postmodern’ era;

  • the influence of ‘postmodern’ thought on contemporary discussions regarding truth, rationality, and politics.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • critically read and discuss the relevant complex texts;

  • analyse the debate between different authors and critically respond to this debate;

  • apply the concepts of modernity and postmodernity to contemporary questions in philosophy and politics;

  • present what they have learned clearly orally and in writing.


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

The reading list will be posted on 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 right information bar.

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


Not applicable.