Daniel Burnfin

Daniel Burfin
Joint Degree Program in Germanic Studies and Philosophy
Office Hours: Autumn Quarter:
Research Interests: Metaphysics, Critique, Verstand/Vernunft, Social and Political Philosophy

Previous Education

KU Leuven (Philosophy), University of Massachusetts Amherst (German Studies), University of Heidelberg


Thematic: Metaphysics, Social and Political Philosophy, Critical Theory, Political Economy

Historical: 19th and 20th Century European Philosophy, Hegel, Marx, Sohn-Rethel

Recent Courses

PHIL 21426 Marx’s Theory of Class

The topic of this course is Karl Marx’s theory of socio-economic class. Its purpose is to gain insight into Marx’s fundamental thesis that understanding classes helps us understand politics. Though it is one of the topics for which his name is most remembered, his view of class is often misrepresented. For instance, one might hear that, for Marx, there are just the two most famous classes of capitalist society—the so-called proletariat (workers) and the bourgeoisie (capitalists). Like classical economists before him and heterodox economists after him, however, Marx actually believes that modern societies consist of at least three classes: workers, capitalists, and landlords or rentiers, as well as other marginalized groups. And he even disaggregates those classes into the smaller groups which constitute them (e.g., productive and unproductive labor; industrial, commercial, and financial capital, etc.). By examining selections from his mature political-economic writings, we will reconstruct Marx’s theory of social classes and consider his application of that theory in significant case studies such as the American Civil War. Themes which we will address include the relation between economy and politics, class and race, science and ideology, as well as agency and structure in historical development. Questions which we will ask include the advantages and disadvantages of Marx’s view with an eye to contemporary questions.

Readings will be selections drawn from Marx’s Capital (esp. volumes II and III), Theories of Surplus Value, Grundrisse, 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, and journalistic writings from the Tribune. (A)

Some experience with philosophy would be helpful.

2023-2024 Spring

PHIL 25823/35823 Fascism

(GRMN 25823, GRMN 35823, HIST 22508, HIST 32508)

Developments in recent years have clearly shown a resurgent interest in “fascism”. While it designates a phenomenon which might concern everyone, it is also a term used more often in the manner of an insult than a precisely defined concept. One might even say it is what W.B. Gallie once called an essentially contested concept—not because many claim it for themselves today, but on the contrary, because virtually everyone denounces it in their own specific way. In this course, students will consider what “fascism” means by engaging with several influential explanations of it. We will read and discuss more contemporary philosophical views (Stanley, Eco), historical perspectives and documents (Paxton), but also classic perspectives from political theory (Arendt), philosophy (Burnham), and critical theory (Horkheimer, Adorno, Pollock), as well as political economy (Neumann, Sohn-Rethel, Gerschenkron, Fraenkel, Kalecki). With an eye to its historical and contemporary applications, our purpose throughout will be to reconstruct the arguments which we will consider in order to develop a rigorous concept of “fascism”.

This course will be offered in English. Its only prerequisite is a non-dogmatic approach to reading and discussion.

2023-2024 Autumn

PHIL 21413 Political Realism

In this course, we will discuss works that belong to the tradition of so-called political realism. Many great works of political philosophy begin by asking questions such as: what is justice? What is just action? Or how should society ideally be arranged so that it is just? Political realists proceed very differently. As Raymond Geuss puts it, they are “concerned in the first instance… with the way the social, economic, political, etc. institutions actually operate in some society at some given time, and what really does move human beings to act in given circumstances.” Some themes which we will address in this course include the roles of power, instrumental reasoning, and ethical commitments in politics. And some questions which we will ask along the way concern the motivation, coherence, tenability, and desirability of a realist approach. Readings will include selections from a broad range of historical periods and political perspectives, including Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, von Clausewitz, Weber, Schmitt, Lenin, and Geuss. (A)

Some experience with philosophy would be helpful.

2022-2023 Spring
Social/Political Philosophy