Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592-003: The Criticism of Everything

Instructor: Patty Turrisi

The Criticism of Everything is a phrase Karl Marx used to describe the methodology by which the future would be designed. Early on, Marx rejected communist utopias, calling them "dogmatic abstraction." In an 1844 letter to Arnold Ruge, in which he outlines a plan for a new journal of criticism, he states his preference for the new philosophy they are proposing:

[Each reformers is]...compelled to confess to himself that he has no clear conception of what the future should be. That, however, is just the advantage of the new trend: that we do not attempt dogmatically to prefigure the future, but want to find the new world only through criticism of the old. Up to now the philosophers had the solution of all riddles lying in their lectern, and the stupid uninitiated world had only to open its jaws to let the worldly, and the most incontrovertible evidence of this is that the philosophical consciousness has been drawn, not only externally but also internally, into the stress of battle. But if the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realize all the more clearly whatwe have to accomplish in the present - I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be.

A scant century earlier, Emmanuel Kant’s 1776 essay, “What is Enlightenment” declared the emergence of true human freedom from its Renaissance humanist birth pangs:

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Are we finished with independent thought? We will put ourselves to the test. The course, “The Criticism of Everything” is a brief survey of ruthless criticisms of everything by individuals who had the courage to use their own understanding. We trace the definition of autonomous thinking from the first logicians (Plato and Aristotle) to the modern critic-logicians (Francis Bacon, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, G.W.F. Hegel, Bertrand Russell, Charles Sanders Peirce) to scientists who regarded science as a “philosophy of discovery” such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Darwin, Snow, Heisenberg and Einstein. The readings are exciting! Through primary sources and contemporary collections of essays that put historical discoveries into context (Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark and Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Death by Black Hole), we will explore world changing criticisms and practice making our own. Students will apply their knowledge of critical methodologies to current events, cultural trends, lifestyle, art and literature, and science and technology.

Updated: November 6, 2017