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Section 1: Introduction to the Philosophy and Literature BA

During the last century or so, developments in philosophical studies and in literary studies – especially within the English speaking world - have led their practitioners in markedly different directions. Philosophy has been transformed through developments in Logic, Mathematics and the Sciences, while developments in Literary Criticism have often seemed to lead away from concern with issues traditionally thought of as ‘philosophical’, and to be antipathetic to contemporary philosophical analysis. Largely as a consequence, important thinkers in whose writings ‘philosophical’ and ‘literary’ elements are closely interconnected tend to be neglected in undergraduate courses, where they fail to receive the sustained and rigorous critical examination appropriate to their work.

We have no wish to disregard these developments in philosophical and literary disciplines; rather, we wish to examine how far Philosophy and Literature, as they are now studied in the English-speaking world, can be studied coherently together at undergraduate level. We are one of the few Universities in the UK trying to do this.

Four Founding Principles

We have at least four fundamental convictions about the proper nature of the enterprise which have governed our shaping of the philosophy and literature course.

  • First, there must be a significant element of ‘combined’ work, where students come together with tutors from both disciplines to explore these disciplines’ interrelationships.
  • Second, such ‘combined’ work must rest on some grounding in Philosophy and Literature as independent disciplines. If the bridge we are trying to build to connect the two disciplines is to carry significant intellectual weight, it must both meet in the middle and be firmly grounded on each side.
  • Third, there are a number of different possible approaches to the study of Philosophy and Literature, and different students may have different preferences; thus there should be flexibility built into the course by way of options to accommodate this.
  • Fourth, the course should give students the opportunity to study thinkers whose work is of both philosophical and literary interest.
  • The second of these points in particular deserves further comment. We are concerned to bring together two distinct and highly developed disciplines without watering either of them down to fit in with the other. The distinctive feature of the course is the combined study of Philosophy and Literature, where you will be taught jointly by members of both departments, in order to approach the relationship between the two disciplines while not minimizing their independent character.

A bit of history

The Phil/Lit degree at Warwick has a unique history. It was founded by the philosopher Martin Warner (B.Phil., Oxon) in 1969, when the university was only a few years old, and he taught on the course until his retirement in 2005. Since its founding, the degree has maintained its characteristic ambition to bring both disciplines into close contact, using each to interrogate the other, while maintaining a sense of their disciplinary uniqueness. One of the innovations of the degree was team teaching, in which member of each department jointly led seminars. This pedagogical practice continues into the present.

In 1985, partly on the strength of the Phil-Lit undergraduate degree, the university established its Centre for Research in Philosophy and Literature (now Philosophy, Literature and the Arts), to stimulate and focus research into the relations between the two disciplines. It has hosted the visits of many eminent scholars working in the area, among them Stanley Cavell, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Martha Nussbaum, Paul Ricoeur, Edward Said, Susan Stewart, Bernard Stiegler and Gianni Vattimo. The Centre has gained an international reputation for its research programme. It also contributes to a large postgraduate community, with MA and PhD programmes in Philosophy and Literature and a range of graduate conferences and colloquia, making for a unique and lively intellectual atmosphere. Phil/Lit students are encouraged to participate in the life of the Centre. See the Philosophy Department calendar for events listings.