2017 Summer Seminars


The Cosmopolitan Nationalism of W.E.B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois was an apparently paradoxical combination of a racial nationalist and a cosmopolitan. As a scholar trained at Harvard by some of the leading American social philosophers of his day, it has been natural to seek to resolve this paradox by reading him against the background of the ideas of figures like Josiah Royce and William James. In this course we will explore instead the less-familiar background provided by his formation at the University of Berlin, seeing him as an heir to a tradition that goes back to Herder and continues in turn-of-the-twentieth century German social thinkers such as Adolf Wagner and Gustav Schmoller, both of whom taught Du Bois. We will discuss some of Du Bois's own writings on the ethical significance of race against the background of these views that framed his thinking, taking seriously the thought that much of what was said about the Geist and the Volk in the liberal and cosmopolitan German nationalism of the later nineteenth century is echoed in Du Bois's writing on the Souls of Black Folk. Reading these texts should both illuminate an important theorist and enable us to engage critically with some of the possibilities and pitfalls of liberal nationalism.

K. Anthony Appiah teaches in the philosophy department and the law school at NYU. Raised in a Pan-Africanist family in Ghana and educated at Cambridge in philosophy, he has worked on W. E. B. Du Bois for nearly forty years. Since his first appointment as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and African and African-American Studies at Yale in 1981, he has taught and written in the philosophy of race, in books such as In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture,Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race (with Amy Gutmann), The Ethics of Identity, and Lines of Descent: W. E.B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity, as well as in essays in Critical Inquiry and The New York Review of Books. He has also written widely in the philosophy of language and mind, in ethics and in the philosophy of the social sciences, and has a longstanding engagement with questions about the nature of religion.

Marx and Capital: The Book, The Concept, The History

The architecture of Marx's Capital as a book reflects his concept of capital as value in motion. He viewed capital as a loosely coupled ecosystem of diverse parts powered by the search for profit or surplus value. The three volumes of Capital construct different windows from which to study the evolution of this ecosystem.  By putting the three volumes together we can build a more workable and realistic model of the evolutionary trajectory of capital over time and space.

David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  His substantive interests lie in the study of urbanization and uneven geographical development of capitalism at a variety of scales, from local to global. Social Justice and the CityParis, Capital of Modernity and Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution are books written in this tradition. He has also engaged in a project to illuminate and make more accessible an understanding of Marx's Capital.  His video lectures on volumes one and two have been widely used as have his Companions to Marx's Capital, Volumes 1 and 2.  He has also written expository texts focusing on Marx's theorization of capital, such as The Limits to CapitalThe Enigma of Capital and Seventeen Contradictions and The End of Capitalism. The applicability of such theorizations to actual situations is taken up in texts such as Justice, Nature and the Geography of DifferenceSpaces of HopeThe New Imperialism and A Brief History of NeoliberalismThe Condition of Postmodernity remains, however, his most popular book.

Thought-Images, Body, and Mimesis in Walter Benjamin

The seminar consists of close readings of Benjamin’s texts on the mimetic faculty, cinema, the storyteller, Proust, shock, and the theses on the philosophy of history; and the implications for our own writing as well as the role of the image in what Benjamin called “moments of danger” such as we face today. 

Born in Sydney, Australia, where he studied medicine, Mick Taussig teaches anthropology at Columbia University in NYC and is the author of many books derived from his 40 years of fieldwork in Latin America, such as The Devil and Commodity FetishismShamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man—a Study in Terror and HealingMy Cocaine MuseumDefacementMimesis and AlterityWalter Benjamin’s Grave; and The Corn Wolf.