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Europe as a Philosophical Problem


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Philosophy of Mind, or Concepts of Selfhood.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


What is Europe? And where is it – should it be – headed? The question of Europe’s identity and destiny has always been primarily a philosophical question, but is also of immense political significance. On the one hand, philosophy is central to European identity: Europe has always defined itself on the basis of its constitutive philosophical principles, such as freedom, reason, historicity, self-criticism or subjectivity. On the other hand, Europe has long been bound up with the identity of philosophy: a long tradition of European thinkers have seen Europe as the only place where reason and philosophy have their proper home. Although this position has long been criticized for its inherent Eurocentrism, its philosophical assumptions continue to underly both philosophical discussions about identity, otherness and universality as well as political debates regarding Europe’s place in the world.

In this course, we will trace the development of the philosophical idea of Europe from the eighteenth century to the present. We will explore the Enlightenment conception of Europe as the home and pinnacle of reason and freedom, as well as contemporary critiques, in Montesquieu, Kant, Herder and Hegel; followed by an examination of influential critiques of the philosophical idea of Europe by Nietzsche, Spengler and Husserl. We will then move on to more contemporary debates on Europe, Eurocentrism and the future of Europe with readings from Derrida, Žižek, Balibar, Habermas, Mouffe and others. Through these readings, we will explore questions of identity and difference, the (non-)universality of reason, the nature of politics, notions of progress and decline in history, and the relation between reason, science and philosophy from the perspective of the question of Europe.

Course objectives

The aim of this course is to learn to think critically about Europe as a philosophical idea. This will entail an investigation into a) the role philosophy and specific philosophical concepts have played in the construction of European identity, and b) the role the concept and idea of ‘Europe’ as a political-cultural entity and as a cultural-philosophical project have played in the development of the Western philosophical tradition.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the development of philosophical thinking on Europe from the eighteenth century onward;

  • the role of the notion of Europe in key philosophical debates regarding identity, universality, history, politics, and the nature of philosophy itself;

  • the theories on Europe of a number of key philosophers.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • critically read and discuss the relevant complex texts;

  • explain the relation between the ideas of the thinkers discussed and take a reasoned position in the debates between these thinkers;

  • take up a critical position based on arguments in the contemporary discussion on Europe and philosophy;

  • present the learned material clearly, both orally and in writing.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Seminar preparation, participation and attendance: 20%

  • Class presentation: required to pass the course, but not graded

  • Mid-term paper: 20%

  • Final paper: 60%


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit consists of a paper and counts for 80% of the final grade – the grade for preparation, participation and attendance is not part of the resit. A sufficient mark for preparation, participation and attendance is required to pass the course.

Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Literature will be made available via Brightspace.

There is no need to study materials before the start of the course.


Enrolment through uSis for this course is not possible. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.