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Philosophy of Culture


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • first-year students in BA Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives;

  • international 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 offers an introduction to the philosophy of culture. It is comprised of three parts.

  1. In the first, main part of the course we study the development of the meaning of the concept of culture, from Greek paideia to modern Bildung, studying texts by Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Schiller, Schlegel, Hegel and Comte.

  2. In part two, we study how the ideals of the Bildung-tradition are criticized by Marx, Nietzsche and Freud and how culture itself now no longer appears as epitome or ideal of human achievements but as itself problematic (respectively: as ideology; as sign of a weak or decadent form of life; and as repression of drives).
    In the 20th century, the concept of culture becomes significantly more encompassing. It no longer expresses the highest capabilities of human development but different cultures (now in the plural) can co-exist as independent realms of meaning, and everything can be studied as potentially culturally significant.
    This pluralization of the concept of culture enables a large variety of new approaches to culture (anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, etc.).

  3. We end our course with three philosophical problems in light of this pluralized notion of culture: through Heidegger’s work on technology we study what distinguishes culture from a merely contingent Weltanschauung or worldview; through the work of Arendt and Adorno we study the possibility of vertical hierarchy in culture (‘higher’ and ‘lower’ culture, mass culture and entertainment); finally, through the work of Foucault and Raymond Williams, we study how culture conditions what counts as “ordinary”.

Although the course touches on the subjects often, this course does not primarily engage with culture in the sense of art and aesthetics, nor is it primarily a course on the normative philosophical problems involved in culture as it shapes identity (such as problems of cultural difference and cultural relativism). The course rather aims to prepare students for such debates in further studies, by studying the meaning of the concept of culture as such.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students to the philosophy of culture. It does not focus on culture in the narrower senses of art and aesthetics, nor on normative discussions about cultural differences and cultural relativism as they relate to identity, but does aim to prepare students for such debates.

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

  • the development of philosophical conceptions of culture;

  • important ways in which culture has been conceived as a problem (repression, crisis, alienation, exclusion) and how culture can be criticized.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • reconstruct, interpret, compare and critically evaluate different conceptions of culture;

  • propose and defend both in writing and orally, basic arguments pertaining to any section of the course.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures.

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Midterm exam: written examination with essay questions;

  • Final exam: written examination with essay questions.


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

  • Midterm exam (50%);

  • Final exam (50%).


The resit consists of a written examination with essay questions 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.

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

All texts will be made available on Brightspace at the beginning of the semester, alongside the reading schedule.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International 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.