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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, all of which call for philosophical grounding. 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.

The starting point of this course is the French reception of German thinking during the first half of the 20th century and the way in which it was driven by questions of human existence (Kojève and Bataille). However, the main focus of the course is the philosophical reaction to existentialism and phenomenology that is often associated to the ill-named current of poststructuralism, but that is by no means reduced to it, as well as to the most contemporary discussions up to the 21st century.

Two sets of questions will be given particular attention. Firstly, the classical question of knowledge was confronted with the question of language, which was further developed in terms of discourse, enunciation, text and writing. Informed by structuralism (Derrida and Foucault) and by semiotics (Kristeva), philosophers got interested in language as the impersonal condition of signification instead of a subject's conscious expression. But they also studied the way in which these changes of perspective affected the truth of acts of enunciation and discourses (Irigaray, Lacoue-Labarthe).

Secondly, the question of being, was completely reformulated when its classical condition of unity or totality was challenged by the necessity of thinking being in terms of plurality (Deleuze, Nancy, Badiou, Romano), contingency (Meillassoux) and plasticity (Malabou). Through these two sets of questions, the classical identity of thinking and being has been thoroughly reformulated for the needs of the contemporary world.

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 avalable 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


  • Final essay

Non-graded mid-term take-home exercise: research project in preparation of the final essay.


  • Final essay (100%)


The resit consists of a paper and counts as 100% of the grade, overwriting all previous graded exam components. Class participation is required for taking the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Discussion of the paper is by appointment after publication of the final grade.

Reading list

Indicative reading list. Further literature will be published on Brightspace.

  • Extracts from Alexandre Kojève, Introduction à la lecture de Hegel (Introduction to the Reading of Hegel).

  • Georges Bataille, "Hegel, la mort, le sacrifice", Œuvres complètes XII ("Hegel, Death, and Sacrifice").

  • Extracts from Maurice Blanchot, L'espace littéraire (The Space of Literature).

  • Extracts from Jacques Derrida, La grammatologie (On Grammatology).

  • Extracts from Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses (The Order of Things).

  • Extracts from Julia Kristeva, La révolution du langage poétique (Revolution in Poetic Language).

  • Extracts from Luce Irigaray, Ce sexe qui n'en est pas un (This sex which is not one).

  • Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, "L'écho du sujet" (in Le sujet de la philosophie) ("Echo of the Subject", in Typographies).

  • Extracts from Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Anti-Œdipe (Anti-Oidipus).

  • Extracts from Jean-Luc Nancy, Être singulier pluriel (Being Singular Plural).

  • Extracts from Quentin Meillassoux, Après la finitude (After Finitude).

  • Extracts from Catherine Malabou, Avant demain. Épigenèse et rationalité (Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality).

The knowlede of French is not required.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.


  • 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.