Beginning in March 2013 Michael Forster became the Alexander von Humboldt Professor, holder of the Chair in Theoretical Philosophy, and Co-director of the International Center for Philosophy at Bonn University. He will also continue to teach at the University of Chicago each year as a visiting professor. Previous to his appointment at Bonn, he was the Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor in Philosophy and the College.
My work in philosophy has both historical and systematic aspects. Historically, I work primarily on German philosophy, and secondarily on ancient philosophy. Systematically, my main interests are in epistemology (especially skepticism) and philosophy of language (in a broad sense which includes not only such central questions as the relation between thought and language, and the nature of meaning, but also, for example, questions concerning the role of meaning and thought in apparently non-linguistic art, animals' capacities for language, meaning, and thought, the scope of possible linguistic-conceptual variations, the nature of interpretation, and the nature of translation). I also have interests in other areas of philosophy, such as moral and political philosophy, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of history. Some of my work tends more towards the purely historical-exegetical (for example, parts of the book Hegel's Idea of a "Phenomenology of Spirit"), some more towards the purely systematic (for example, the article "On the Very Idea of Denying the Existence of Radically Different Conceptual Schemes"). But my commonest way of working combines historical-exegetical and systematic goals in roughly equal measures (some examples of this are the book Hegel and Skepticism, the pair of articles on Herder's philosophy of language "Herder's Philosophy of Language, Interpretation, and Translation: Three Fundamental Principles" and "God, Animals, and Artists: Some Problem Cases in Herder's Philosophy of Language," and the book Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar).
office hours: Winter Quarter, Friday’s: 12:00 - 2:00 pm
office: Stuart 202B
PHIL 51830. Topics in Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy. The topic for Winter 2017 is "Freedom and Responsibility, Contemporary and Historical." We will begin by canvassing the major philosophical positions in the Anglophone literature on free will and moral responsibility over the past half-century, with readings drawn from some or all of P.F. Strawson, G. Strawson, H. Frankfurt, G. Watson, D. Velleman and others. In the second half of the seminar we will step back to look at the treatment of these same issues by major figures in the history of philosophy, including M. Frede's A Free Will: Origins of the Notion in Ancient Thought, as well as primary texts by Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Sartre. The seminar is open to philosophy PhD students without permission; to J.D. students with instructor permission; and to others with instructor permission. Winter 2017. With B. Leiter.
PHIL 51830. Topics in Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy: Etiological/Genealogical Critiques of Concepts, Beliefs and Values (=LAWS 78603) If you had been brought up in a different family, or a different culture, your religious and moral beliefs would likely have been very different than they are—perhaps even your beliefs about the world around you. Should this fact bother us? Should the origin of our beliefs and values make us skeptical about them, or should it lead us to revise them? Historians and social scientists, from Marvis Harris to Ian Morris, have regularly proferred etiological/explanatory accounts and think they have debunking implications; recently, a number of Anglophone philosophers have begun to address the question, including G.A. Cohen, George Sher, Roger White, and Amia Srinivasan, among others. But interest in the etiology (or genealogy) of beliefs and values, and its significance, long predates these 20th-century writers. We will also give extended consideration to at least Herder, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche—time permitting, perhaps some others. Winter 2016. With B. Leiter.
51830. Topics in Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy. (=LAWS 78603) PQ: Ph.D. students may register without instructor consent. All others by instructor permission only. The topic for Winter 2014 will be "Ideology." What makes moral, political, economic, or legal ideas "ideological," in the pejorative sense associated with the Marxian tradition? How do facts about the genesis of an ideology bear on its epistemic warrant? What is the relationship between ideology and "false consciousness"? How can an individual be mistaken about his interests? What concept of interests is needed for the theory of ideology and false consciousness? We will use some aspects of contemporary economics as a case study for the theory of ideology. Readings from some or all of Hegel, Marx, Horkheimer, Adorno, J. Elster, R. Geuss, M. Rosen, G. Becker. With B. Leiter. Winter 2014.
27000. History of Philosophy III: Kant and the Nineteenth Century. PQ: Completion of the general education requirement in humanities. This course attempts to provide a broad survey of German philosophy from the time of Kant into the nineteenth century. Topics covered include: Kant's transcendental idealism; Herder's philosophy of language; Romantic theories of interpretation and translation; Hegel's project in the "Phenomenology of Spirit"; Marx's theory of ideology and critique of religion; and Nietzsche's critiques of religion and traditional morality. The course consists mainly of lectures, but discussion is also encouraged. Spring 2011, Spring 2012.
50610. Hermeneutics and Translation-Theory. The general aim of this course is to consider the question of variations in conceptual schemes and the resulting challenges faced in interpretation and translation, together with the implications for such diverse areas as epistemology, the methodology of the human sciences and intercultural relations. To this end, parts of the course will be devoted to considering Homer's conceptual scheme; the hermeneutical theories of Herder, Schleiermacher, and Dilthey; and some recent philosophical work bearing on the topic, such as that of Donald Davidson. (On the other hand, Heidegger and Gadamer will not play a significant role in this course.)Winter 2012.
28201/38201. Topics from Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. (FNDL 28203). This course will attempt to give a general introduction to what is arguably Hegel's most exciting work. We will begin by spending some time discussing the overall project of the work, especially as articulated in the Preface and Introduction. After that, we will examine some of the most important sections of the work, such as "Sense-certainty" and "Lordship and Bondage" in more detail. (V) Autumn 2011.
51830. Topics in Moral, Political & Legal Philosophy (=LAWS 78603) The topic will be an examination of philosophical and empirical issues raised by Nietzsche’s moral psychology, including his account of the will, motivation, the sources of moral judgment, and related topics. We will look at both at selections from Nietzsche’s texts, as well as pertinent secondary literature on Nietzsche, and recent work in philosophy and psychology. With B. Leiter. Spring 2011.
22610/32610. Herder's Philosophy. This course will attempt to provide a broad introduction to Herder's philosophical thought. Among the topics covered will be his philosophy of language (including his theories of interpretation and translation); his philosophy of mind; his aesthetic theory; his philosophy of history; and his political philosophy. The course will consist mainly of lectures, but discussion will also be encouraged. Winter 2011.
21510/31510. Forms of Skepticism in Antiquity. This course will attempt to provide a broad introduction to the main forms of skepticism that were developed in antiquity. Specific cases covered will include Xenophanes, Parmenides, the Sophists (Protagoras and Gorgias), Socrates, Academic Skepticism, and Pyrrhonism. The course will include both lectures and discussion.(B) (IV) Autumn 2010.
20705/30705. German Philosophy of Language Open to college and grad students. This course will mainly cover Herder, Hamann, Schleiermacher, the Schlegels, von Humboldt, and Hegel. Winter 2008.
25010/35010. Plato's Early Dialogues Open to college and grad students. In this course we will consider Plato's early dialogues from two standpoints, that of moral philosophy and that of epistemology. In the first connection the topics covered will include the transition from "competitive" to "quiet" virtues; the unity of the virtues and its bearing on the phenomenon of moral dilemmas; moral cognitivism versus (Protagorean) moral training; and the question of cosmopolitanism. In the second (epistemological) connection the topics covered will include the Socratic demand for definitions; the Socratic profession of ignorance; Socratic elenchus; and Socrates' positive methods. Dialogues read in the course will include the Apology, the Euthyphro, the Crito, the Euthydemus, and the Protagoras. Autumn 2004.
27000. History of Philosophy III: Kant and the Nineteenth Century Open to college students. Prerequisites: Completion of the general education requirement in humanities. This course provides a broad introduction to the most important thinkers and themes in later 18th and 19th century Philosophy. Spring 2006, Spring 2007, Spring 2008. Spring 2010.
27500/37500. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason Open to college and grad students. This course begins with a general investigation of the nature of Kant's critical enterprise as revealed in the Critique of Pure Reason and other texts. We then examine selected parts of the Critique of Pure Reason with a view to achieving a fuller understanding of the work. (B) (V) Winter 2007.
20705/30705. German Philosophy of Language. This course provides an introduction to a tradition of thought from the later eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries in Germany which is heavily focused on issues concerning language. The thinkers in this tradition include Herder, Hamann, the Schlegel brothers, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Hegel. In addition to covering philosophy of language in the narrow sense, we consider topics in such closely related areas as the theory of interpretation (“hermeneutics”) and the theory of translation. (B) (V) Spring 2010.
52200.Social and Political Philosophy of Hegel and Marx. (LAWS TBD) Hegel and Marx are the most important anti-liberal political philosophers of the modern era. In this seminar, we will critically evaluate their conceptions of history, society, and the 'good life' through careful study of selected texts. The seminar is open to PhD students and to JD students who have some background in philosophy or political theory. Students will be required to produce a research paper of 20-30 pages. Writing for this seminar may be used as partial fulfillment of the JD writing requirement (SWP for JD '10; SRP or WP for JD '11 and JD '12). Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. co-taught with B. Leiter. Spring 2010.
28201/33001. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit Open to college and grad students. This course will attempt to give a general introduction to what is arguably Hegel's most exciting work. We will begin by spending some time discussing the overall project of the work, especially as articulated in the Preface and Introduction. After that, we will examine some of the most important sections of the work, such as "Sense-certainty" and "Lordship and Bondage" in more detail. (V) Spring 2006.
Hermeneutics. The general aim of this course is to consider the question of variations in conceptual schemes and the resulting challenges faced in interpretation and translation, together with the implications for such diverse areas as epistemology, the methodology of the human sciences and intercultural relations. To this end, parts of the course will be devoted to considering Homer's conceptual scheme; the hermeneutical theories of Herder, Schleiermacher, and Dilthey; and some recent philosophical work bearing on the topic, such as that of Donald Davidson. (On the other hand, Heidegger and Gadamer will not play a significant role in this course.)
50400. German RomanticimOpen to grad students. Winter 2006.
58600. Workshop: Continental Philosophy Open to grad students. Meets over three quarters. 2002.