Robert Pippin

Robert Pippin
Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor
Foster Hall, Room 307
Office Hours: Spring Quarter: Wednesdays, 1:30 - 2:30 pm, by appointment
Pennsylvania State University PhD (1974); Trinity College BA (1970)
Teaching at UChicago since 1992
Research Interests: Kant, Hegel, Modern German Philosophy, Theories of Normativity, Self-Knowledge, Philosophy and the Arts

Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books and articles on German idealism and later German philosophy, including Kant's Theory of Form; Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness; Modernism as a Philosophical Problem; and Idealism as Modernism: Hegelian Variations.  In addition he has published on issues in political philosophy, theories of self-consciousness, the nature of conceptual change, and the problem of freedom. He also wrote a book about literature and philosophy: Henry James and Modern Moral Life. A collection of his essays in German, Die Verwirklichung der Freiheit, appeared in 2005, as did The Persistence of Subjectivity: On the Kantian Aftermath, and his book on Nietzsche, Nietzsche, moraliste français: La conception nietzschéenne d'une psychologie philosophique, appeared in 2006. Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy appeared in 2012. He was twice an Alexander von Humboldt fellow, is a winner of the Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award in the Humanities, and was recently a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a member of the American Philosophical Society. He is also a member of the German National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Selected Publications

Filmed Thought: Cinema as Reflective Form (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2019)

Hegel’s Realm of Shadows: Logic as Metaphysics in The Science of Logic (University of Chicago Press, 2018)

The Philosophical Hitchcock: Vertigo and the Anxieties of Unknowingness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017)

Die Aktualität des Deutschen Idealismus (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2017)

Interanimations: Receiving Modern German Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2015)

After the Beautiful. Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Kunst als Philosophie. Hegel und die Philosophie der modernen Bildkunst (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012)

Introductions to Nietzsche, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Fatalism in American Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012)

Hegel on Self-Consciousness. Desire and Death in the 'Phenomenology of Spirit' (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); Italian Translation, 2015

Hollywood Westerns and American Myth: The Importance of Howard Hawks and John Ford for Political Philosophy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010)

Hegel's Concept of Self-Consciousness, 2009 Spinoza Lectures (Amsterdam: van Gorcum, 2010)

Nietzsche, Psychology, First Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010) - Link; Spanish Translation, 2015

Hegel's Practical Philosophy: Rational Agency as Ethical Life (Cambridge University Press, 2008)


Robert Pippin's recorded lectures & interviews

Recent Courses

PHIL 27319/37319 Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil

(SCTH 50305)

A close reading of the book Nietzsche considered the most accessible and thorough account of his views. (IV)

This will be a graduate seminar. Advanced undergraduates are admitted by permission.

2022-2023 Spring

PHIL 23410/33410 Heidegger’s Being and Time

(SCTH 20303, SCTH 50303)

In 1927 Heidegger published a partial version of this book in a German journal and it quickly became a sensation, challenging the deepest assumptions of the entire Western philosophical tradition. Heidegger claimed that philosophy in this tradition had “forgotten” the most important question in philosophy, the “meaning of being,” and he proposed to begin to raise this question anew by a preliminary attention to the meaning of human being. This began what came to be known as “existentialism” and it revolutionized philosophical anthropology, literary and art criticism, theology, as well as numerous areas in philosophy, especially the study of the history of philosophy. (B) (IV)

This will be a lecture/discussion course devoted to a close reading of all of Being and Time. Exposure to philosophy, especially to ancient philosophy and Kant, is recommended. Enrollment is by permission of the instructor upon application.

2022-2023 Winter

PHIL 28115/38115 The Films of Robert Bresson: Contemplative Cinema and Poetic Thinking

(SCTH 38115, CMST 38115)

Bresson’s films are known for their minimal and highly original style, the avoidance of any reliance on theatrical conventions, the use of nonprofessional actors (“models,” he called them), unusual and “unnatural” editing techniques, distinctive pacing, and for its themes of grace, redemption, fate, moral severity, and several other philosophical and religious issues in the lives of the characters. This course will explore Bresson’s innovations as aiming at a new form of contemplative cinema, one in which style is a matter of a kind of poetic thinking (as understood by Martin Heidegger), a reflective interrogation of philosophical issues that for which traditional philosophy is inadequate. We shall watch and discuss his films: Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945); The Diary of a Country Priest (1951); A Man Escaped (1956); Pickpocket (1959); Au hazard Balthasar (1966); Mouchette (1967); Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971) and L’argent (1983). Readings will include, among others, Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematograph and Bresson on Bresson; Paul Schrader, The Transcendental Style in Film, selected essays about particular films, and selections from Heidegger.

Consent required.

2021-2022 Spring

PHIL 28202/38202 Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

(FNDL 23410, SCTH 38003)

Our goal in this course will be to read through and understand the most important chapters of Hegel’s revolutionary book. Main topics will include Hegel’s new conception of philosophy and philosophical methodology, his agreements and disagreements with Kant, the nature of self-consciousness and human mindedness in general, individuality and sociality, and the relation between philosophy and history. (V)

Undergraduates should have some background in philosophy; a knowledge of Kant would be especially helpful.

2021-2022 Winter

PHIL 51702 Heidegger’s Critique of German Idealism

(SCTH 50301 )

The texts we will read: Heidegger’s 1929 book, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, his 1935 course, published as the book What is a Thing, the critique of Hegel published in 1957, Identity and Difference, and the 1942/43 lectures published as Hegel’s Concept of Experience.  We will conclude with a discussion of Heidegger’s 1936 lectures, Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom.

The topic of the course: finitude.

Students who have taken the winter quarter seminar on Heidegger will be given priority, but that is not a necessary condition of admission to the seminar. Grad students only.

2020-2021 Spring

PHIL 54806 Heidegger’s Concept of Metaphysics

(SCTH 50300 )

The two basic texts of the course will be Heidegger’s 1929-30 lecture course, “Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics,” and his 1935 course (published in 1953), “Introduction to Metaphysics.” Both texts amount to a radical critique of all Western metaphysics, and an equally radical proposal for a new beginning, another sort of “first philosophy.” He wants to claim that the finitude of all a priori reflection, when properly appreciated, can inaugurate a proper interrogation of the fundamental question in philosophy: the meaning of being. To familiarize ourselves with Heidegger’s overall project, we will begin by reading selections from his 1927 Marburg lectures, “The Basic Problems of Phenomenology.”

The course is designed for graduate students in philosophy and related disciplines, but some undergraduates with a sufficient background in the history of philosophy will be admitted. Undergraduates with permission of the instructor.

2020-2021 Winter

PHIL 28006/38006 Philosophical Fiction: Proust's In Search of Lost Time

(FNDL 28006, SCTH 38006)

We will discuss all seven volumes of Proust's magisterial novel, In Search of Lost Time (1913-1927). In order to be able to do so in a ten week quarter, students must announce their intention to register for the course before the end of the Spring quarter of 2018, and pledge to have read the entire novel before the March, 2019 beginning of the seminar. (They can do so by emailing Robert Pippin at The novel is well known for its treatment of a large number of philosophical issues: including self-identity over time, the nature of memory, social competition and snobbery, the nature of love, both romantic and familial, the role of fantasy in human life, the nature and prevalence of jealousy, the nature and value of art, the chief characteristics of bourgeois society, and the nature of lived temporality. Our interest will be not only in these issues but also in what could be meant by the notion of a novelistic "treatment" of the issues, and how such a treatment might bear on philosophy as traditionally understood. We shall use the Modern Library boxed set of seven volumes for the English translation, and for those students with French, we will use the Folio Collection paperbacks of the seven volumes. (I)

Robert Pippin, J. Landy
2018-2019 Spring

PHIL 28114/38114 Film and Philosophy: Issues in Melodrama

(SCTH 28114, SCTH 38114, GRMN 35550, CMST 28114, CMST 38114)

The general question to be addressed: might film (fictional narratives or “movies”) be a reflective form of thought, and if so, might that form of reflection be considered a philosophical one? The genre to be interrogated with this question in mind will be melodramas, narratives of great suffering and extreme emotional experiences, the best of which explore how we might make sense of such suffering. A prominent question: the difference between tragedy and melodrama, and the bearing of that difference on the general question. Another: might such films be a form of collective self-knowledge at a time? Another: might such films be a unique way to explore the problems philosophers call “moral psychology,” and what difference should it make to philosophers if the psychological subjects in such an inquiry are women? We shall watch nine films in connection with these questions: Stella Dallas (1937); Now Voyager (1942); Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948); Caught (1949); Rebel Without a Cause (1955); All That Heaven Allows (1955); Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974); Written on the Wind (1956); and  Imitation of Life (1959); Readings will include Stanley Cavell's Contesting Tears, and essays by Linda Williams, Laura Mulvey, George Wilson, Christine Gledhill; Victor Perkins, Rainer Fassbinder, Thomas Elsaesser, and others. (A) (I)


2018-2019 Winter

PHIL 50305 Oedipus and Hamlet: On the Philosophy of Tragedy

(GRMN 40305, SCTH 40305, TAPS 40305)

In this class we will consider closely attempts to understand tragedy philosophically. Sophocles' Oedipus the King and Shakespeare's Hamlet, two texts that have particularly attracted philosophical attention will serve as constant reference points, but other paradigmatic tragedies (Euripides Bacchae, Goethe's Faust, Beckett's Endgame) will also be considered. Among the philosophical contributions to be considered are works by Aristotle, Schiller, Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Scheler, Schmitt, Benjamin, Murdoch, and Menke. Major issues to be dealt with: the structure of tragic plot; the tragic affects; catharsis; ancient and modern tragedy; tragedy and the tragic; the aesthetics of tragedy; tragedy and society; tragedy and the sacred.

Robert Pippin, D. Wellbery
2017-2018 Spring

PHIL 24709/34709 Nietzsche's Critique of Morality

(SCTH 38005)

A close reading of Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals, supplemented by passages from The Gay Science, and Bernard Williams's book, Shame and Necessity. Of special importance: the appeal to "psychology" in the critique of morality.

2017-2018 Winter
German Idealism

PHIL 28203/38203 Hegel's Philosophy of Right

(SCTH 38004, FNDL 28204)

In this course we shall seek to understand Hegel's 1821 book, Elements of the Philosophy of Right. This book is traditionally understood to contain Hegel's "political philosophy," but the book also proposes a metaphysics of human agency, claims about the relation of philosophy to its own historical time, a rejection of utopian political thinking, a theory of crime and punishment, and a theory of the relationship between individual and communal life that he says is based on his "speculative philosophy," and so is "dialectical." In Hegel's terms, the book should be understood as his theory of "objective spirit," and we shall attempt to understand what that subject matter might be. (V)

The course will be a seminar/discussion with restricted enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Prior work in philosophy, especially in practical philosophy, is highly recommended.

2016-2017 Spring
German Idealism

PHIL 51903 On Aesthetic Form

(SCTH 50605, GRMN 51917)

This seminar is part of a joint research project (The Idealist Project: Self-Determining Form and the Foundation of the Humanities) sponsored by the Neubauer Collegium. The focus of the year's activities is the topic of aesthetic form. There will be two conferences on this topic with the participation of leading international scholars in Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017, with the conference participants returning for seminar sessions devoted to readings of their work. Particular (but not exclusive) attention will be paid to the theory of tragedy. Important points of reference are works by Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Benjamin, and Cavell. (I)

Robert Pippin, D. Wellbery
2016-2017 Winter

For full list of Robert Pippin's courses back to the 2012-13 academic year, see our searchable course database.