Master Seminar Ethics Autumn Term 2011: Ethics and Religion: War and Peace

Masters Seminar ‘Ethics’ Autumn Term 2011

Ethics and Religion
‘War and Peace’
«Die wertvollste Erkenntnis, die aus der Schule des Krieges davongetragen wird, ist die, dass das Leben in seinem innersten Kerne ganz unzerstörbar ist.»
(“The most valuable insight born of the school of war is that life at its innermost core is entirely indestructible.”)
(Ernst Jünger, ‘Das Unzerstörbare’, in: Politische Publizistik 1919-1933, p.613)

Instructor: Dr. H.W. Sneller, Institute for Religious Studies, University of Leiden

tel.: 071 527 25 83
5 ects
Thursday, 11-13pm
First meeting: September, 15th, 2011.
Wijkplaats 2/003
Please register by e-mail or telephone!
War and peace are inextricably intertwined. In a two year sequence this master seminar will deal with war and peace respectively. The focus of this year’s seminar will be not so much on political and polemological questions as on the intra-psychic, or even metaphysical resonance of war. Does warfare teach us something about a fundamental inner combat? Does it betray thorough ontological tensions? How relevant is a gender perspective here, given the fact that wars are mostly waged and prepared by men, albeit sometimes for the sake of women (e.g. Helena, Cleopatra, Patma)? Can causes of war be derived from projective identifications invested with religious energy (e.g. Kosovo, ‘Palestine’, Jerusalem)? On what conditions can these questions be answered at all?
Starting with a reflection on the famous pre-combat conversation between Krishna and Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita, we will study several authors who connected war and destructivity to inner-human or even ontological tendencies: authors varying from psychoanalytical thinkers (Freud and Fromm), idealists (T.H. Green), existentialists (Gabriel Marcel), to a First World War combat soldier whose writings are renowned for having inspired Hitler (Ernst Jünger).
By discussing the war phenomenon within a psychological-metaphysical framework, this seminar aims at giving an alternative approach to this ineradicable tragedy of human history, called ‘war’.
English translations or substitutes are available, though German and French are highly recommended.
Survey of the seminar:
1. Introduction. Bhagavad-Gita.
2. Why War? Freud, ‘Warum Krieg?’ (GW XVI, 11-27) and ‘Zeitgemäßes über Krieg und Tod’ (GW X, 323-355).
3. The Spiritual Principle in Knowledge and Nature. T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, Book I Ch 1.
4. Man’s Relation to the Spiritual. T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, Book I Ch 2 – Book II Ch 1.
5. Desire, Intellect, Will. T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, Book II Ch 2.
6. Virtue. T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, Book III Ch 5.
7.  Freedom and Loss of Freedom. Gabriel Marcel, Les hommes contre l’humain, 1ère partie – 2ème partie Ch. I
8. Fanaticism, Abstraction, Depersonalisation. Gabriel Marcel, Les hommes contre l’humain, 2ème partie Ch II – 3ème partie, Conclusion.
9. Aggression I. Erich Fromm, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, 3rd Pt, Ch. 9-10.
10. Aggression II Erich Fromm, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, 3rd Pt, Ch. 11-12.
11. Aggression III. Erich Fromm, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, 3rd Pt, Ch. 13.
12. Conclusion. Ernst Jünger, Politische Publizistik 1919-1933, ‚Der Krieg als inneres Erlebnis’ (100-107), ‘Der Frontsoldat und die innere Politik’ (146-152), ‚Die totale Mobilmachung’ (558-582), ‚Das Unzerstörbare’ (613-615).
The course will be taught in English except when all participants have a working knowledge of Dutch.
Procedure of the Seminar:
The participants of the seminar prepare themselves weekly by reading very carefully the texts that have been placed at their disposal beforehand, and by accomplishing several assignments. Those who read German will have to read the original text!
Final conclusion:
Weekly participation in and preparation for the courses is indispensable. The seminar has to be concluded by a written paper, containing 5-10 pages. Deadline January 31st, 2012.
The paper will have to be centered on some crucial or telling passage taken from one of the texts discussed. This passage will have to be considered and commented upon scrupulously.
These are the criteria of evaluation:
1. originality and consistency of the argument
2. attested capability of integrating elements from the other texts into the argument
3. attested capability of actualizing the argument by referring to existing discussions and burning issues of today
Seminar: 4 ects. Paper: 1 ects.
Admission and requirements:
A satisfying knowledge of the history of philosophy, particularly of moral philosophy, is required and indispensable. This seminar is open to both master and bachelor students. Assignments can be reduced for BA-students.
Reading assignments:
Although texts may be available on the internet, students may wish to procure one or more books themselves. For antiquarian books, see,, or New: These are the relevant titles :
o Bhagavad-Gita (many translations and editions available).
o T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2003 (1883)
o Gabriel Marcel, Les hommes contre l’humain, Paris, Fayard, 1951. (trans. The Existential Background of Human Dignity, Harvard University Press, 1963). (Antiquarian, library).
o Erich Fromm, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Holt Paperbacks, 1992 (1973).
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