840013 :Modernities, Identities and Evil


Voertaal Engels
Werkvorm: 13 x 2 hours lectures (Geen informatie over collegetijden bekend)
Tentamenvorm: Presentations (50%), Written exam(50%) (Geen informatie over tentamendata bekend)
Studielast:6 ECTS credits
Inschrijving:Inschrijven via COMAP. Enrolment from December 1 to December 20


dr. D.J.M.S. Janssens

prof. dr. A. van Lenning

Doel van de cursus (alleen in het Engels beschikbaar)

To provide course participants with the necessary knowledge to be able to: explore and comprehend historical political concepts and beliefs about a certain group of people and their sociological and psychological underpinnings.

Inhoud van de cursus (alleen in het Engels beschikbaar)

In the first part of this course we will start discussing Western modes of thinking about the self since the 18th century. We will approach the subject in a way that is contextual as well as theoretical. We will read the texts of poets, authoritative scientists and prominent philosophical thinkers in Britain, France and Germany. The focus is on the extent to which individuals can achieve coherence and consistency in the face of the external pressures that threaten to overwhelm them.

During the second part of our course we will focus on the question whether individuals can be deemed to be good or bad independent of context. Do really good or bad people exist? In our attempt to find an answer this we will discuss several studies on the character and morals of the perpetrators as well as the victims of evil during the Second World War. A central element in the Nazi strategy was the dehumanisation of their victims. Having an identity and losing it played an important role in their suffering. What does the experience and pain of a loss of identity consist of?

In this context we will also discuss the position of the so-called `situationists', who are sceptical about the importance of character or identity, and who have pointed out that human behaviour is extraordinarily sensitive to variation in circumstances. What do the `situationists' have to say about the victim's experience of a loss of identity? The situationists are the heirs of Thomas' sociological insight that the definition of the situation is the crucial variable with respect to human behaviour. Over against the situationists we find the adherents of virtue ethics, who believe that the consistency of character is (or ought to be) the crucial variable. Is it possible to reconcile these two approaches?

In the third and final part of the course we will study contemporary forms of violence and read texts from psychiatrists and lawyers on the character and psychology of the perpetrators of violent actions. We will also read texts written by the victims of this violence. In this context we will discuss the `Just world hypothesis' of Lerner. This hypothesis refers to the tendency of people to want to believe that the world is "just". Sometimes they believe this so strongly that when they witness an otherwise inexplicable injustice they will rationalize it by searching for things that the victim might have done to deserve it. This deflects their anxiety, and lets them continue to believe the world is a just place, but at the expense of blaming victims for things that were not, objectively, their fault.

We will complete the course by studying the concept of moral agency, i.e. the person's capacity for making moral judgments and taking actions that comport with morality. Can we reconcile the notion of moral agency with the insights of the `situationists' and what does this mean for an approach to the phenomenon of evil?

The course materials consist of written materials (both textbook materials, academic essays, and case law). Use will also be made of audio-visual materials.

Bijzonderheden (alleen in het Engels beschikbaar)

A Blackboard site will be made availble. We will not only read texts, but we will also work with visual materials such as film.

The course is designed for first year Bachelor Liberal Arts students. No prior academic knowledge is required.(br>
In order to be accepted to Liberal Arts and Sciences courses students need to hand in a motivation letter and an essay (in English) at least three weeks before the start of the course. The student may be invited to an interview.
This application needs to be addressed to the Board of Examiners (attn. secretary D352).

Verplichte literatuur

  1. The course materials will be made available in Blackboard and in a reader