Judgement in Twentieth Century French Thought

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Politics and International Relations

Abstract

The Early Career Fellowship will enable me to complete a manuscript entitled Judgement in Twentieth Century French Thought, and to organise a series of workshops bringing together new and leading academics working on twentieth century French philosophy from across the UK. It will address the question of whether French thought can be considered to be a fundamentally unified enterprise.

The monograph will represent a novel attempt to provide an account of the development of twentieth century French philosophy by presenting it against the backdrop of the nineteenth century model of thinking as judgement exemplified by Immanuel Kant. For Kant, the paradigmatic activity of thought is judgement, or the ascription of properties to objects. While judging is clearly an aspect of thinking, the restriction of thinking to judgement risks excluding other modes of experience, such as aesthetic experience, as well as falsifying our normal way of relating to the world. More importantly, if we follow Kant in arguing that the structure of the world is commensurate with thinking, then assuming that thinking is judging forces on us a certain account of the structure of the world. As such, it excludes ways of thinking about the world that emphasise its perspectival or processual character, and risks giving us a false picture of the fundamental categories of it. I will show how an attempt to provide a model of thought that does not reduce all thinking to judgement is a central and unifying aspect of the major philosophical projects of the twentieth century in France by tracing the development of the critique through the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and Alain Badiou.

The project will show the logical connections between the different schools of French thought by tracing the development of their philosophies from the common problematic of the nature of thought. Several recent works have stressed the differences between the phenomenological and post-phenomenological traditions in French thought, focusing on the post-phenomenological incorporation of structuralist approaches, or its attempt to reintroduce consciousness into a consistent materialism. While these approaches highlight aspects of the tradition, they also occlude the significant continuities within twentieth century French thought. The new account developed within this project will tie together these approaches, and foster new research on the problems central across the works of individual philosophers. As the nature of thought is central to accounts of method and metaphysics in French philosophy and German idealism, it will make an important contribution to work within these traditions, as well as bringing these aspects of the history of philosophy into engagement with live philosophical problems. The French philosophical tradition has been very influential on the humanities, including fields such as art, literature, and political theory, and the project will benefit those working on the theoretical foundations of those disciplines.

The project will involve a series of events to foster a community of scholars working on related problems in the fields of German idealism, French phenomenology and poststructuralism. Three workshops will be held, each centred on one of the relationships between these fields, with the intention of allowing scholars to develop their understanding of how related problems are at the roots of their research areas, and hence to develop a broader understanding of the context, motivation and possibilities of the French tradition as a whole. They will reinforce an understanding of continental philosophy as a problem-centred discipline dealing with real issues, such as the nature of thinking. These workshops will be held at Royal Holloway, Staffordshire, and Dundee, all centres for continental philosophy in the UK.

Planned Impact

The focus of the project is primarily on issues within the field of philosophy itself, and with issues at the foundations of one of the major movements of the twentieth century. As the project is predominantly theoretical, the main beneficiaries will be scholars working on French and German philosophy.

While the project itself deals with foundational and theoretical issues, it is the case that twentieth century French philosophy has been applied in a wide range of other discourses in the arts, social sciences, and approaches to mental health. By exploring the interrelations between the philosophers on whom these applications are based, the project will enable new applications, and a greater understanding of the relations between current approaches. It is not possible to predict what the precise impact will be, as it will depend on how those applying French philosophy take up the project.

Publications

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Somers-Hall, H (2017) Bergson and the Development of Sartre's Thought in Research in Phenomenology

 
Description While I am still completing the manuscript for the fellowship, the research has shown a number of important connections between philosophers in 20th century French philosophy. Most notably, I have discovered that a central claim running through the tradition is that meaning or sense cannot be understood to have the same form as judgement, an insight that sets modern French thought a long way from German idealism.
Exploitation Route My project deals with a limited group of philosophers. The project will create a framework for other philosophers to approach other 20th century French philosophers. It also draws connections between fundamental claims by different philosophers that will be of interest to practitioners in areas such as psychoanalysis, sociology, etc. that rely on insights from the European philosophical tradition
Sectors Creative Economy,Other

 
Description Research network in Post-Kantianism and Modern French Philosophy established. 
Organisation Staffordshire University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I organised a series of workshops with individuals at Staffs and Dundee, and at Royal Holloway that allowed a national and international group of scholars to exchange knowledge on the development of post-Kantian philosophy, and it's impact on Modern French philosophy. this has led to the early stages of a publication collecting proceedings from the conferences.
Collaborator Contribution David Webb, and Ashley Woodward each served to organise local workshops for the event.
Impact As well as providing a forum for young scholars and established academics to engage with each other, we are working on an edited collection that will draw together the best papers from the conferences.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Research network in Post-Kantianism and Modern French Philosophy established. 
Organisation University of Dundee
Department MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I organised a series of workshops with individuals at Staffs and Dundee, and at Royal Holloway that allowed a national and international group of scholars to exchange knowledge on the development of post-Kantian philosophy, and it's impact on Modern French philosophy. this has led to the early stages of a publication collecting proceedings from the conferences.
Collaborator Contribution David Webb, and Ashley Woodward each served to organise local workshops for the event.
Impact As well as providing a forum for young scholars and established academics to engage with each other, we are working on an edited collection that will draw together the best papers from the conferences.
Start Year 2015