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Philosophy of History


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.


What is history? What role does our understanding of history play in our self-understanding as human beings? And what is the role of the notion of history in philosophical thought? From Antiquity to the present, philosophers have offered theories of history, explaining how societies develop in time. Do they progress, regress or develop in endless cycles? But from the eighteenth century onwards, philosophical thinking itself becomes thoroughly historicized. The notion of an eternal, timeless truth is subjected to a historical critique which sees truth as changeable and historically grounded, and the notion of history and thinking’s own historicality become central concerns for modern philosophy.

In this course we will study the development of a new understanding of history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the works of Vico, Herder, Kant and Hegel, and the critical development of their thought by philosophers such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Arendt and Foucault. We will examine the Enlightenment notion of progress and its critics, and ask how the changing understanding of history has affected philosophical thought.

Course objectives

The aim of this course is to learn to think critically about philosophical notions of history and social change from the eighteenth century onwards. Students learn to situate the ideas of the thinkers we discuss in their historical and social context and are expected to critically reflect on the theories of historical development we discuss.

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

  • The development of philosophical thinking on history from the eighteenth century onward;

  • The role of historical thinking in the development of different ideas about notions of truth, the subject and other core philosophical notions;

  • The theories on history of a number of key philosophers.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • Critically read and discuss the relevant complex texts;

  • Explain the relation between the ideas of the thinkers discussed and take a reasoned position in the debate between these thinkers;

  • Formulate a view as to how changing notions of time and history in philosophy relate to broader changes in society, technology and culture;

  • Present the learned material clearly, both orally and in writing.


The timetable is available on the following websites:

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

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

  • Studying literature: 119 hours

  • Preparing for seminars (incl. one presentation): 22 hours

  • Researching and writing papers: 100 hours

Assessment method


  • Preparing questions for seminars and attendance: 10%

  • Class presentation: 20%

  • Mid-term paper: 20%

  • Final paper: 50%


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests.


The resit covers the entire exam and consists of of paper. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for subtest.

Active participation in class is required for admission to 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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Making available information regarding the course

  • Making available (additional) reading material

  • General communication

Reading list

  • Vico, New Science (selections)

  • Herder, Outline of a Philosophical History of Humanity

  • Hegel, Philosophy of History

  • Kant, Idea for a Universal History; 'Is the Human Race Continually Improving?’; On Perpetual Peace

  • Nietzsche, On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life

  • Spengler, The Decline of the West

  • Heidegger, Being and Time (selections)

  • Arendt, On Revolution

  • Foucault, The Order of Things (selections); ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’

  • Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man

Further reading to be announced.


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. F.W. (Bart) Zantvoort


Not applicable.