Semester: Wintersemester 2016/2017

4.03.234 Nature, Culture and Concepts of "Bildung"


  • Di , 04.10.2016 10:00 - 16:00
  • Mi , 05.10.2016 10:00 - 16:00
  • Mo , 03.10.2016 10:00 - 16:00
  • Sa , 01.10.2016 10:00 - 16:00
  • So , 02.10.2016 10:00 - 16:00


  • IUC Dubrovnik


Since the middle of the 20th century (or earlier,the beginning of the 20th century, if one takes the rise of fascism as a result of the collapse of Bildung) the notion of Bildung, the genesis of which is also an inherent part of an ongoing process of Bildung in itself, has gradually lost its appeal and hasbeen reduced to a mere category. The agents of early Critical Theory, for their part, represent an anachronismin adhering to the concept of Bildung, which they do for two reasons. Firstly, Horkheimer and Adorno want to fathom the tensions and contradictions inherent in the notion of Bildung and draw conclusions about the failure of humanity’s Bildung-project. Secondly, they do not want to accept that failure and, instead, offer resistance to the objective spirit of society which attempts to totally integrate every individual.
With regard to the claim of the traditional idea that Bildung simultaneously shapes and con-serves nature, it is possible to grasp the contradiction alluded to above: Bildung includes human beings’ emancipation from their own nature. By virtue of reason, human beings strive to trans-cend their raw and unshaped existence. To do so they apply their efforts to what is perceived as extrinsic to their spirit, striving primarily to master the external world according to the princi-ples of reason (Kant). The process of Bildung, which aims towards the realization of the ultimate end of humanity, cannot, however, end in the total repression of everything natural. In the final account, the natural element of human beings is irreducible and holds a distinct and irreplaceable role in the process of Bildung. So it will always be demonstrative of a defective Bildung if it asserts that the ethical character of a person can only be affirmed by the sacrifice of his or her natural character (Schiller). Classical German Philosophy already warned about human beings’ loss of nature (Schelling), which suggests the fateful implications that the classical notion of Bildung already had at its zenith. So a defence of Bildung, on the other hand, also demands the defence of inner and outer nature against its total suppression or subjugation by the complete hegemony of reason.
In retrospect, it has to be considered a problem that this defence had always been misaligned toward subjectivity, i.e. toward an understanding of nature as standing in total opposition to an impermeable subject. The much bemoaned phenomenon of a relapse into barbarism from a more developed stage of human culture – and the permanent repetition of such a relapse– has typically been explained by the degenerate character of individuals, and has even been declared to be an anthropological constant (Freud). The explanation that this relapse is an expression of an inevitable process, resulting from the insurmountable weakness of human nature (of‘interior nature’ or the ineluctable behavioural mechanisms of the human psyche) which is not palliated, but favoured by processes in the human community, leads to a fatalistic approach to the prob-lem of Bildung/education.
In terms of theory, this fatalism is actually less reflected by psychoanalysis and more by positiv-ist psychology at the beginning of the 20th century. This direction in psychology easily brought itself into service of economic life, defining the requirements of the latter as natural tasks, and aimed to both explain and exploit people’s self-imposed compulsions by means of experimental work (Münsterberg). The positivistic standpoint laid the foundation for a scientific practice which was to come up with the notion of competence, which is very influential today, and ended up replacing that of Bildung. Indeed, the orientation towards competencies has almost nothing to do with what Bildung once intended. Precisely considered, this is because it is not based on the idea of a potentially autonomous subject, but instead affirms the view of a self that is subject to constantly changing requirements of its environment and situation, and that is both determined and fulfilled by a permanent striving for self-actualisation. This kind of subject is not able to form a fixed and identical self capable of self-consciously governing its own will. It practices self-preservation without a self (Adorno).
The analysis of the historical origins and the social function of the notion of competence make the theorem of Halbbildung (as the necessary result of Bildung) an appropriate and current foundation for a discussion of the relation between Nature, Culture and Bildung. It does not simply contrast today’s crisis in terms of Bildung with a timeless ideal of Bildung, but critically reflects the latter itself. Already in classical philosophy the demand for a ‘return to nature’ was not meant to imply the restoration of a primitive state. It described the effort to internalize social norms and values which are rooted in and not opposed to the requirements of our nature. Therefore Critical Theory aims at comprehending this process as mediated through the system of bourgeois society. Inspired by Marx’s insights about the functioning of capitalist society, Criti-cal Theory converts Hegel’s idea of Bildung as an objective, trans-subjective process into the concept of a negative objective spirit. The total system of society does not exclude anything nat-ural, but in the end encroaches on the individual’s subjectivity by producing moral constraints which imply a limitation of ‘merely’ natural behaviour. These constraints create what is known assecond nature, which – whilst trying to adapt totally - perpetuates aggressions that played a primary role in the most terrible outbreak of barbarism in human memory.
Building upon this abstract the participants in the course will discuss the following questions:
o How were the notions of (first and second) nature, culture and Bildung determined by Ancient philosophy (especially as understood through the lens of Classical scholarship and philology) and in Classical German Philosophy?
o To what extent are the theories on Bildung self-referential and to what extent do they (from today’s point of view) point beyond themselves?
o Is their treatment by the advocates of Critical Theory adequate?
o Where are the limits of philosophy if it is about the discussion the phenomenon of Bild-ung? Which demands are legitimately made by other disciplines, such as psychology, an-thropology, neuroscience? What is their relation to the field of philosophy?
o Which significance do scientific findings in the realm of the natural sciences have for the determination of nature, culture and Bildung?
o Which alternative drafts of Bildung (opposing the classical idea) are there besides Critical Theory and the concept of competencies?

Please note that the Course will be taught at the IUC in Dubrovnik (! For further details please contact
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  • phi210 Geschichte der Philosophie
  • phi220 Praktische Philosophie - Ethik, Recht, Gesellschaft
  • phi230 Theoretische Philosophie und Grundlagen der Wissenschaften
  • phi240 Ästhetik / Kulturphilosophie
  • phi320 Praktische Philosophie und ihre Konsequenzen für die Gesellschaft
  • phi321 Praktische Philosophie und ihre Konsequenzen für die Gesellschaft
  • phi330 Theoretische Philosophie und ihre Konsequenzen für die Grundlagen der Wissenschaften
  • phi331 Theoretische Philosophie und ihre Konsequenzen für die Grundlagen der Wissenschaften
  • phi340 Praktische Philosophie - Ethik, Recht, Gesellschaft
  • phi510 Geschichte der Philosophie
  • phi520 Philosophie der Gesellschaft
  • phi530 Theoretische Philosophie und Grundlagen der Wissenschaften

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