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 (e.g., parts of the book Hegel's Idea of a "Phenomenology of Spirit"), some more towards the purely systematic (e.g., 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).
After Herder (paperback, Oxford University Press, December 15, 2012)
German Philosophy of Language from Schlegel to Hegel and Beyond (Oxford University Press, 2011)
After Herder (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Kant and Skepticism (Princeton University Press, 2008)
Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar (Princeton University Press, 2004)
Herder: Philosophical Writings (Ed., Cambridge University Press, 2002)
Hegel's Idea of a "Phenomenology of Spirit" (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
Hegel and Skepticism (Harvard University Press, 1989)
"A Wittgensteinian Anti-Platonism" from the Harvard Review of Philosophy
See one of Michael Forster's lectures here.
PHIL 51830 Advanced Topics in Moral, Political & Legal Philosophy: Nietzsche and the Hermeneutic Tradition
Hermeneutics, or the theory of interpretation, was developed in its modern form in Germany in the 18th- and early 19th-centuries by authors like Herder, F. Schlegel and Schleiermacher. Later in the 19th-century, there emerged what Ricouer subsequently dubbed a “hermeneutics of suspicion”—an attempt to reveal the hidden meanings beneath the surface meanings people express—in figures like Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. In the first half of the seminar, we will give a close reading of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality as an exercise in the hermeneutics of suspicion, as well as consider in some detail Nietzsche’s remarks on perspectivism and interpretation. In the second half of the seminar, we will then consider the historical background to this hermeneutics of suspicion in Romantic hermeneutics. We will also give particular attention to the development of legal hermeneutics in Savigny and then, much later, through the work of Gadamer. We will conclude by returning to the hermeneutics of suspicion, especially as illustrated by Marx. (I)
Open to philosophy Ph.D. students without permission and to others with permission. Those seeking permission should e-mail Professor Leiter with a resume and a detailed description of their background in philosophy (not necessarily in the study of Nietzsche). In the event of demand, preference will be given to J.D. students with the requisite philosophy background.
PHIL 51830 Advanced Topics in Moral, Political & Legal Philosophy: Social & Political Philosophy of Hegel and Marx
We will focus on Hegel’s philosophy of history and its influence on Marx’s historical materialism; and on Hegel’s critique of Christianity in the Early Theological Writings and also in the Phenomenology and its relation to Marx’s early theory of human nature in the 1840s and his critique of ideology. (I)
PHIL 51830 Topics in Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy: Nietzsche on Morality, Suffering, and the Value of Life
Nietzsche objects to Judeo-Christian morality (and its ‘ascetic’ analogues in non-Western traditions) because he argues it is a fatal obstacle to certain kinds of human flourishing and cultural excellence. This is closely connected to his opposition to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic view that the inescapable fact of suffering renders life without value (a life without human excellence would, on Nietzsche’s view, lack value). These issues (and others, e.g., the nature of philosophy and tragedy, the conception of Dionysus) have antecedents in his early work as a scholar of antiquity and the influence of his Basel colleague, the important historian Jacob Burckhardt. Roughly the first five sessions will be devoted to reconstructing the “mature” Nietzsche’s view, as represented by the Genealogy, but also excerpts from Daybreak, Beyond Good and Evil, Twilight of the Idols, and Ecce Homo. The remaining four sessions of the seminar will explore the historical background, in Greek literature and philosophy, the reception of Greek culture in German philosophy, and in the seminal work of his colleague Burckhardt. The ultimate goal is to reconstruct Nietzsche’s view from a philosophical point of view and, as importantly, in light of the historical context. (I)
Open to philosophy PhD students without permission and to others with permission; those seeking permission should e-mail Leiter with a resume and a detailed description of their background in philosophy (not necessarily in the study of Nietzsche). In the event of demand, preference will be given to J.D. students with the requisite philosophy background.
PHIL 51830 Topics in Moral, Political and Legal Philosophy
The topic for Winter 2018 is the "Epistemology of Etiological/Genealogical Critiques: Contemporary and Historical." Anglophone epistemology has recently become interested in the question whether the origin of our beliefs matters to their acceptability or justification. The intuitive thought is simple: If you had been brought up in a different family, or a different culture, or at a different time, your moral, religious, and philosophical beliefs (among any others) would likely have been very different than they are. Shouldn't that make us wonder whether we are really justified in believing what we believe? Should the origin or historical contingency of our beliefs and values make us skeptical about them, or lead us to revise them? Many historical figures in the German traditions have thought so: in different ways, Herder, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Many recent Anglophone philosophers think not: they ask what epistemological principle would license a localized skepticism about certain beliefs without having far-reaching implications? When does the etiology of belief matter epistemically and when does it not? We begin by looking at contemporary approaches to this question in the recent Anglophone literature (with readings from G.A. Cohen, Sharon Street, Roger White, and Amia Sreenivasan, among others), then turn to historical figures in the Continental European traditions concerned with these questions. (I) (III)
The seminar is open to philosophy PhD students without permission; to J.D. students with instructor permission; and to others with instructor permission.
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. (I) (III)