James Conant is Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor in the College at the University of Chicago, as well as Humboldt Professor at the University of Leipzig. He has served as co-director of the Forschungskolleg Analytic German Idealism in Leipzig since 2012. He is also the director of the Center for German Philosophy at the University of Chicago. He received both his BA (1982) and PhD (1990) from Harvard University. He was Assistant, then Associate, and then Full Professor, over a period of nine years, at the University of Pittsburgh, before moving to Chicago in 1999. He works broadly in philosophy and has published articles in Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Mind, Aesthetics, German Idealism, and History of Analytic Philosophy, among other areas, and on a wide range of philosophers, including Kant, Emerson, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Josiah Royce, William James, Frege, Carnap, Wittgenstein, Putnam, Cavell, Rorty, and McDowell, among others. He is currently working on four book-length projects: a monograph on skepticism entitled Varieties of Skepticism, a co-authored collection of essays with Cora Diamond entitled Wittgenstein and the Inheritance of Philosophy, a book on film aesthetics entitled The Ontology of the Cinematographic Image, and a forthcoming collection of interpretative essays on a variety of philosophers entitled Resolute Readings. He has edited, among other things, two volumes of Hilary Putnam's papers and co-edited (with John Haugeland) one volume of Thomas Kuhn's papers, with a second posthumous work by Kuhn soon to be completed. Together with Jay Elliot, he is about to bring out the volume of the Norton Anthology of Philosophy on The Analytic Tradition.
He has taught as a visiting professor at the College de France, Postdam University, the LMU in Munich, University of Amsterdam, University of Bergen, University of Helsinki, University of Iceland in Reykyavik, University of Picardy in Amiens, University of Uppsala, Leipzig University, Göttingen University, University College Dublin, University of Veracruz in Xalapa, Humboldt University in Berlin, and the University of Rome La Sapienza. From 1990 to 1993 he was a Fellow at the Michigan Society of Fellows, from 2008 to 2009 at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and from 2012 to 2013 at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg of the University of Goettingen. From 2006 to 2008, together with David Wellbery, he was a co-recipient of a Mellon Foundation Saywer Seminar Grant. He is the co-recipient of two Humboldt TransCoop Awards, one with Sebastian Rödl and one with Pirmin Stekeler, each of which has facilitated numerous philosophical projects, workshops, and conferences sponsored jointly by the Departments of Philosophy at Leipzig University and the University of Chicago. In 2012 he was awarded the Anneliese Meier Prize by the Humboldt Foundation.
He serves on a number of academic advisory boards, including those of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen, the Berlin Center for Knowledge Research, the North American Nietzsche Society, the Wittgenstein Initiative, and the Internationale Ludwig Wittgenstein Gesellschaft. He is also a member of the senior editorial board of the bi-lingual German-English journal Wittgenstein-Studien: Internationales Jahrbuch für Wittgenstein-Forschung and the senior editorial board of the bi-lingual Italian-English journal Iride. Together with Günter Abel, he is co-editor of the book series Berlin Studies in Knowledge Research, as well as a member of the advisory board of the book series called Nordic Wittgenstein Studies.Together with Andrea Kern, he is the co-director of the Center for Analytic German Idealism and co-editor of the affiliated book series Analytischer Deutscher Idealismus. He served as Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago for three years, stepping down in July 2011, and serving again as Interim Chair for the academic year 2014-15.
James Conant “Wittgenstein’s Critique of the Additive Conception of Language,” in Nordic Wittgenstein Review, 9, 2020.
The Logical Alien, published by Harvard University Press in February 2020, contains an opening essay by James Conant, eight critical essays on Conant by leading philosophers, and fourteen further essays by James Conant, eight of which are essay-length replies to each of his critics.
“Some Socratic Aspects of Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy,” in Wittgenstein on Philosophy, Objectivity, and Meaning, ed. J. Conant & S. Sunday (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 231-64.
“Why Kant Is Not a Kantian,“ Philosophical Topics 44, no. 1 (Spring 2016)
“Two Varieties of Skepticism,” in Rethinking Epistemology, vol. 2, edited by Guenter Abel and James Conant (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2012)
“Three Ways of Inheriting Austin,” in La philosophie du langage ordinaire: Histoire et actualité de la philosophie d’Oxford / Ordinary Language Philosophy: The History and Contemporary Relevance of Oxford Philosophy, ed. Christoph Al-Saleh and Sandra Laugier (Olms Verlag, Hildesheim, 2011)
"Wittgenstein’s Methods," in The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein, ed. O. Kuusela and M. McGinn (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011)
“Wittgenstein’s Later Criticism of the Tractatus,” in Wittgenstein: The Philosopher and his Works, ed. A. Pichler and S. Säätelä (Ontos Verlag, 2006)
“The Dialectic of Perspectivism, I,” SATS, Autumn 2005 issue
“The Dialectic of Perspectivism, II,” SATS, Spring 2006 issue
“Rorty and Orwell on Truth,” in On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and the Future, ed. Abbot Gleason, Jack Goldsmith, and Martha Nussbaum (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005)
"The Method of the Tractatus," in From Frege to Wittgenstein: Perspectives on Early Analytic Philosophy, ed. Erich H. Reck, (Oxford University Press, 2002)
"Nietzsche's Perfectionism: A Reading of Schopenhauer as Educator," in Nietzsche’s Postmoralism, ed. Richard Schacht (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
"The Search for Logically Alien Thought: Descartes, Kant, Frege and the Tractatus," in The Philosophy of Hilary Putnam, Philosophical Topics, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 115-180.
Further Publications and Materials
To see a more comprehensive list of publications, please visit Jim Conant's personal webpage here.
James Conant's recorded interviews, lectures, etc.
Interview with James Conant on “Talking to Thinkers” by Johnny Lyons. Part 1, Part 2
Audio Recordins of Intensive Seminar with James Conant and Cora Diamond at the University of Pardubice, October, 2018.
PHIL 50124 Wittgenstein’s Treatment of Rule Following in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics and Philosophical Investigations
This course will involve a close reading of the sections devoted to the topic of rule following in two of Wittgenstein’s best known later writings, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics and Philosophical Investigations, as well an examination of some of the most influential secondary literature on those sections, including texts by Brandom, Bridges, Diamond, Dummett, Finkelstein, Floyd, Goldfarb, Kripke, McDowell, Stroud, and Wright. (III)
Open only to graduate students.
PHIL 27213/37213 The Philosophy of Stanley Cavell
The aim of this first course will be to offer a careful reading of three quarters of Stanley Cavell’s major philosophical work, The Claim of Reason. The course will concentrate on Parts I, II, & IV of the book (with only very cursory discussion of Part III). We will look at other writings by Cavell insofar as they directly assist in an understanding of this central work of his. In particular, we will focus on Cavell’s treatment of the following topics: criteria, skepticism, agreement in judgment, speaking inside and outside language games, the distinction between specific and generic objects, the relation between meaning and use, our knowledge of the external world, our knowledge of other minds, the concept of a non-claim context, the distinction between knowledge and acknowledgment, and the relation between literary form and philosophical content. We will read background articles by authors whose work Cavell himself discusses in the book, as well as related articles by Cavell. We will also discuss several of the better pieces of secondary literature on the book to have appeared over the course of the last three decades. Though no separate time will be given over to an independent study of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, we will take the required time to understand those particular passages from Wittgenstein to which Cavell himself devotes extended attention in his book and upon which he builds his argument. The Claim of Reason is dedicated to J. L. Austin and Thompson Clarke and its treatment of skepticism seeks to steer a middle course between that found in the writings of these two authors. We will therefore also need to read the work of these two authors carefully. The final two meetings of the course will focus on issues in Part IV of the book which set the stage for a broader consideration of Cavell’s views on topics in philosophical aesthetics and the relation between philosophy and literature.
One previous course in philosophy.
PHIL 57213 The Philosophy of Cora Diamond
The first third of this course will focus on Cora Diamond’s contributions to the philosophy of logic (what a logical notation is, what logical nonsense is, wherein logical necessity consists) and the history of analytic philosophy (especially the interpretation of Frege, the Tractatus, and Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations), the second third on her contributions to ethics (especially about the role of argument in ethics, about the ethics of eating animals, and the relation between philosophy and literature), and the final third to her understanding of the connections as well as differences between philosophical logic and philosophical ethics (and why a proper appreciation of wherein these lie has implications for a proper philosophical comprehension of formal notions such as truth and human being, as well as for a proper account of the parallels between logical propositions such as those of the form “This is something that cannot be thought” and ethical statements such as those of the form “This is something that one must not do.”)
By admission by the instructor.
PHIL 24109/34109 John McDowell's Mind and World
This course will be an overview and introduction of some of the main themes of the Philosophy of John McDowell, orientated around his book Mind and Word. We will also read some of his writings on philosophy of perception and disjunctivism dating from before the book, as well as some of his later responses to critics of the book. The course will conclude with a brief glance at the subsequent development of his views, especially in philosophy of perception since Mind and Word. (B) (III)
One previous course in philosophy.
PHIL 54602 The Analytic Tradition
This seminar will be a graduate survey course on the history of the first half of the analytic philosophical tradition. The course will aim to provide an overview of developments within this tradition, starting from the publication of Frege's Begriffsschrift in 1879 and reaching up to the publication of Ryle's The Concept of Mind in 1949 and the posthumous publication of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations in 1953. The course will focus on four aspects of this period in the history of analytic philosophy: (1) its initial founding phase, as inaugurated in the early seminal writings of Gottlob Frege, G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, as well as Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus; (2) the inheritance and reshaping of some of the central ideas of the founders of analytic philosophy at the hands of the members of the Vienna Circle and their critics, especially as developed in the writings of Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, Moritz Schlick, and W. V. O. Quine, (3) the cross-fertilization of the analytic and Kantian traditions in philosophy and the resulting initiation of a new form of analytic Kantianism, as found in the work of some of the logical positivists, as well as in the writings of some of their main critics, such as C. I. Lewis; (4) the movement of Ordinary Language Philosophy and Oxford Analysis, with a special focus on the writings of Gilbert Ryle and the later Wittgenstein. (V)
PHIL 23701/33701 Varieties of Philosophical Skepticism
The aim of the course will be to consider some of the most influential treatments of skepticism in the post-war analytic philosophical tradition - in relation both to the broader history of philosophy and to current tendencies in contemporary analytic philosophy. The first part of the course will begin by distinguishing two broad varieties of skepticism - Cartesian and Kantian - and their evolution over the past two centuries (students without any prior familiarity with both Descartes and Kant will be at a significant disadvantage here), and will go on to isolate and explore some of the most significant variants of each of these varieties in recent analytic philosophy. The second part of the course will involve a close look at recent influential analytic treatments of skepticism. It will also involve a brief look at various versions of contextualism with regard to epistemological claims. We will carefully read and critically evaluate writings on skepticism by the following authors: J. L. Austin, Robert Brandom, Stanley Cavell, Thompson Clarke, Saul Kripke, C. I. Lewis, John McDowell, H. H. Price, Hilary Putnam, Barry Stroud, Charles Travis, Michael Williams, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. (B) (III)
This will be an advanced lecture course open to graduate students and undergraduates with a prior background in analytic philosophy.
PHIL 56706 Conceptions of the Limits of Logic from Descartes to Wittgenstein
In what sense, if any, do the laws of logic express necessary truths? The course will consider four fateful junctures in the history of philosophy at which this question received influential treatment: (1) Descartes on the creation of the eternal truths, (2) Kant's re-conception of the nature of logic and introduction of the distinction between pure general and transcendental logic, (3) Frege's rejection of the possibility of logical aliens, and (4) Wittgenstein's early and later responses to Frege. We will closely read short selections from Descartes, Kant, Frege, and Wittgenstein, and ponder their significance for contemporary philosophical reflection by studying some classic pieces of secondary literature on these figures, along with related pieces of philosophical writing by Jocelyn Benoist, Matt Boyle, Cora Diamond, Peter Geach, John MacFarlane, Adrian Moore, Hilary Putnam, Thomas Ricketts, Sebastian Rödl, Richard Rorty, Peter Sullivan, Barry Stroud, Clinton Tolley, and Charles Travis. (V)
The course is open to advanced undergraduates and graduate students with prior background in philosophy.
PHIL 24602 The Analytic Tradition: From Frege to Ryle
This course will introduce students to the analytic tradition in philosophy. The aim of the course is to provide an overview of the first half of this tradition, starting from the publication of Frege's Begriffsschrift in 1879 and reaching up to the publication of Ryle's The Concept of Mind in 1949 and the posthumous publication of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations in 1953. The course will focus on four aspects of this period in the history of analytic philosophy: (1) its initial founding phase, as inaugurated in the early seminal writings of Gottlob Frege, G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, as well as Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus; (2) the inheritance and reshaping of some of the central ideas of the founders of analytic philosophy at the hands of the members of the Vienna Circle and their critics, especially as developed in the writings of Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, Moritz Schlick, and W. V. O. Quine, (3) the cross-fertilization of the analytic and Kantian traditions in philosophy and the resulting initiation of a new form of analytic Kantianism, as found in the work of some of the logical positivists, as well as in the writings of some of their main critics, such as C. I. Lewis; (4) the movement of Ordinary Language Philosophy and Oxford Analysis, with a special focus on the writings of Gilbert Ryle and the later Wittgenstein. (B)
PHIL 56909 Kant's Transcendental Deduction and Its Contemporary Reception
This seminar will be devoted to a close reading and discussion of certain portions of Kant's First Critique, focusing especially on the Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding. We will explore a handful of proposals for how to understand the project of the First Critique that turn especially on an interpretation the Transcendental Deduction, including especially those put forward by Henrich, Kern, Rödl, Sellars, Strawson, Stroud, and McDowell. The aim of the course is both to use certain central texts of recent Kant commentary and contemporary analytic Kantian philosophy to illuminate some the central aspirations of Kant's theoretical philosophy and to use certain central Kantian texts in which those aspirations were first pursued to illuminate some recent developments in recent epistemology and the philosophy of mind.