PP1RP-Radical Philosophy

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2016/7

Module Convenor: Prof Maximilian De Gaynesford

Email: r.m.degaynesford@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:
From Plato and Marx to contemporaries like Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, Catharine MacKinnon and Giorgio Agamben, there is a long tradition of radicalism in philosophy. This course is about how radical philosophy can usefully question our deepest assumptions and challenge our deepest beliefs. Poets should be outlawed from our society! We can secure knowledge by doubting everything! Capitalism will be destroyed by the very forces it creates! It is not possible for us to live authentically! Gender is a social performance! We can never access the subjectivity of those we investigate! Pornography silences women! We are not responsible for migrants and other fringe groups of society who lack full access to citizenship! We must tolerate hate speech! Torture is permissible in extreme circumstances, e.g. post 9/11! We cannot hope for a perfectly reconciled and harmonious society! These are some of the claims this course investigates philosophically.


Required readings will be posted online.


Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, 2012

The course encourages students to confront their deepest beliefs and assumptions in a characteristically philosophical way. It helps teach the basic rudiments of philosophical argument. It informs students about current debates in philosophy. It develops a sense of the significance of philosophical thinking in dealing with modern problems. It cultivates skills in oral and written argument. It encourages students to compare and contrast very different ways of doing philosophy, e.g. ‘analytic philosophy’, ‘phenomenology’, ‘post-structuralism’, ‘continental philosophy’, ‘deconstruction’, ‘postmodernism’.

Assessable learning outcomes:
Students will be making their first steps towards mastery of the discipline of Philosophy: they will gain awareness of current philosophers, learn skills of argument and presentation, and understand the epistemology and methodology of Philosophy across a broad range of different conceptions of what counts as ‘Philosophy’. Students will also be making their first steps in acquiring their own skills of research and enquiry: they will design their own presentations, undertake research to produce coursework essays, learn how to critically appraise what they discover. Finally, students will be developing personal effectiveness and self-awareness: they will learn how to communicate effectively with a range of audiences (in one-to-one, seminars and lectures) using a range of means (speaking, summary-writing, essay-writing, presenting, designing slides), how to reflect on their progress, their strengths and weaknesses, their developing sense of the goals they wish to achieve.

Additional outcomes:
Students will be enhancing their global engagement and multi-cultural awareness: this module teaches students about different conceptions of social and civic responsibility, about appreciating multiple perspectives and the values of diversity. Students will be enhancing their awareness of gender: this module teaches students about different perspectives on gender and identity, about appreciating how differently cultural phenomena can impact on society. Students will be enhancing their contextual abilities: this module teaches students different ways of relating concepts and theories to the current context, so they can develop the skills to apply their knowledge to real world problems.

Outline content:
The module will begin with (1) an introduction to philosophical argument, and then four weeks on the radical tradition in philosophy, so as to clarify what ‘radical philosophy’ is. We shall look at (2) Plato’s claim that poets should be banished from society, (3) Descartes’ claim that knowledge can be secured by doubting everything, (4) Marx’s claim that Capitalism will destroy itself, and (5) Heidegger’s claim that we have difficulty ever being truly authentic. Using this historical basis to focus issues, the module will then turn to contemporary radical philosophy. We shall look at (6) Judith Butler’s claim that gender is not the expression of a prior reality but a social performance, (7) Gayatri Spivak’s claim that we cannot truly access the subjectivity of those we investigate, particularly migrants and other fringe groups (8) Catharine MacKinnon and Rae Langton’s claim that pornography silences women, (9) Giorgio Agamben and Slavoj Zizek’s’s claim that post 9/11 states of exception reveal tendencies towards fascism, and (10) Chantal Mouffe’s claim that we should give up hope of a perfectly reconciled and harmonious society, settling instead for an agonistic pluralism.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
The module is taught by lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars during the term in which it is provided. All students are required to write two module essays from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor and to give one seminar presentation. In addition, in weeks in which a student is not giving a presentation, they will be required to write a short précis of the topic for discussion at a given seminar class. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and sample questions will be given out at the start of the course. There will be an in-class test at the end of the course.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Guided independent study 170
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 70
Oral assessment and presentation 20
Class test administered by School 10

Other information on summative assessment:
Essay 1: 30%
Essay 2: 40%

Formative assessment methods:
Students will write a short précis of the topic for discussion for every seminar class in which they are not doing a presentation. Some lectures will involve quizzes.

Penalties for late submission:

Penalties for late submission will be in accordance with University policy.
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.
  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:
    Written Examination only; lasting 2 hours, requiring answers to 2 questions (August / September)

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Last updated: 6 January 2017

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