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180048 SE Stanley Cavell and Emersons Moral Perfectionism (2019S)

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Continuous assessment of course work



max. 30 participants
Language: German


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

An absence in the first seminar-session will result in your losing your place in class. Should you be unable to attend the first session, make sure to tell me beforehand by sending a message to david.wagner@univie.ac.at

Thursday 14.03. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 21.03. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 28.03. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 04.04. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 11.04. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 02.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 09.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 16.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 23.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 06.06. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 13.06. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Thursday 27.06. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock


Aims, contents and method of the course

The American Philosopher Stanley Cavell (1926-2018) spent more than a quarter of a century reading and re-reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings. He made use of them as if they were a quarry, picking Emerson’s aphorisms and phrases as material for his own philosophical thinking. In this seminar we will not only look at the results of this thinking but will primarily try to understand Cavell’s method. His fairly complex essays, published under the title of EMERSON'S TRANSCENDENTAL ETUDES (2003), are like etudes themselves: those short musical pieces of considerable difficulty composers like Franz Liszt – a contemporary of Emerson's – used to write. At times they even read like free jazz. Cavell asked himself: Can the movement of thought survive the writing-process? How does one write an essay that does not look like a thesis cut in stone? -- The perhaps off-putting name "moral perfectionism" is a label for something we can all relate to: An unexamined life is not worth living (said Socrates, if we trust Plato). But how do we get to know ourselves? How are we to examine our lives? According to Cavell: By talking to others, but not just "to" others, rather by actually conversing "with" them. So, one central theme in this seminar will be our way of approaching Emerson and Cavell: We will treat them as philosophical friends and make an effort at charitable readings. To consider someone as a friend does not entail that one subscribes to everything the other person says: Indeed, rational disagreement is a basic sign of taking the other person seriously.

The aim of this seminar is an examination of the writing process: how do philosophical texts come about?

Method: Group work, written assessments, presentations and discussions. The class will result in a seminar paper.

Assessment and permitted materials

Your attendance is part of your final grade, you will be expected to hand in short written papers, give a talk and participate in class discussions. Each student is expected to write a final seminar paper.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

Erasmus students beware: If your English isn't very good you will have a hard time to understand either Cavell or Emerson.

40% of your final grade will be based on five short written assignments, 20% are based on your participation in class discussions and your regular attendance, a further 40% of your grade will result from the final seminar paper. I will expect you to follow my style-sheet for any written homework. The seminar paper should not exceed 7500 words. - The five written assignments during summer term and the final seminar paper are required items for achieving a positive grade.

By registering for this seminar, you tacitly agree to having all your electronic submissions checked by Turnitin.

Examination topics

Reading list

Secondary literature to this seminar will be available on the electronic learning platform moodle. Our primary texts will be Emerson’s ESSAYS and Cavell’s collection of papers on Emerson:

The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/emerson/browse.html

Cavell, Stanley (2003): Emerson's Transcendental Etudes. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press.

Association in the course directory

Last modified: Mo 07.09.2020 15:36