LS 814: Revolution

Fall 2004  | Dr. Peter Schouls


This course will acquaint the participants with the concept revolution as it has made its appearance in, and has developed throughout, the modem period in the realms of philosophy, science, education, politics, economics, theology, art, and in theories and attitudes concerning gender, and the environment. Discussion will become concrete through examples of revolutionary events and revolutionary cultural products.


Over the thirteen-week period, the following topics will be the starting points for our discussion:

Week 1

Revolution as distinct from reformation, rebellion, coup d'etat, with illustrations from theology (as in the reformer Luther) and politics (as in revolutionary events in France in and around 1789). Introduction of a preliminary definition of revolution as a hypothesis to be tested and developed, or rejected, as the course progresses. Revolution will be viewed as a typically modem phenomenon, going hand-in-hand with new conceptions of the nature of a human being, of humanity's context, and of humanity's role in its destiny. Questions will be raised from the outset about characteristics often said to be essential to revolutions, characteristics such as illegality, radical newness, violence, suddenness, and progressiveness.

Week 2

Descartes: revolution in early modem culture, through a new definition of reason, led to a new view of humanity which helped to make the idea of indefinite progress central to western consciousness. This idea of progress was to be realized through new sciences applied to both human and physical nature. Through the sciences of medicine and 'morals' human nature was to be perfected, and through 'mechanics' physical nature was to become humanity's servant.

Week 3

Locke: revolution in early modem culture through a new view of the nature of children as well as of adults; these views required new theories and practices for the education of children and the (re-)education of adults.

Week 4

Locke: revolution in early modem culture through a new view of 'the individual human being' which led to new views and practices in politics and the state, as well as new characterizations of economic activity and property.

Weeks 5, 6, and 7

Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx and Engels, Nietzsche: revolution in late-modem philosophical, theological, economic, political and ethical thought and practice. From the earlymodem to the late-modem period, the concept revolution undergoes considerable development, not the least because of the new prominence of the historical dimension of reality that, in turn, entails a view of humanity different from that in the early-modem period. One question, which needs to be confronted at this stage, is whether a definition of revolution that might have been useful for the early-modem period retains its usefulness for discussions of late-modernity.

Week 8

If possible, a session on, for example, revolution and architecture.

Week 9

Ignatieff: revolution and the concepts needs, wants, duties, rights.

Week 10

Parker: Contemporary discussion of revolution, including the question whether postmodem critiques of 'grand narratives' call for a fundamental re-interpretation of the nature of revolution (in concept and practice).

Week 11

Revolution and feminist thought and action.

Week 12

Revolution, feminism, and environmentalism.

Week 13

Revolution and the 'logic' of environmental problems.


The following books contain most of the required readings. Where readings are from these sources but do not include the entire work, I have indicated the relevant pages, or numbered paragraphs, in the weekly assignments below.

Rene Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (Cambridge 1985), translated by Cottingham, Stoothoff, Murdoch.

Patrick L. Gardiner, ed. 19th Century Philosophy (New York and London 1969)

Michael Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers (Penguin 1984)

Michael Ignatieff, The Rights Revolution (Toronto 2000)

John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Of the Conduct and of the Understanding, published together in a single volume, edited by Ruth Grant and Nathan Tarcov (Indianapolis/Cambridge 1996)

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (any readily available edition)

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (any readily available edition)

Noel Parker, Revolutions and History (Cambridge/Malden 1999)

Peter Schouls, 'Revolution', in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward C. Craig (London/New York 1998)

Readings on feminism: to be set by the participants in the course (photocopied articles or chapters)

Readings on environmentalism: to be set by the participants in the course (photocopied articles or chapters)