Course Proposal: Description & Basic Outline


Theories of Social Change: the Hermeneutics of Emancipation


This course will examine various theories of social change and implications for their implementation in practice. The central philosophical perspectives will be that of Philosophical Hermeneutics which emphasizes the inquiry into the nature of human existence. It views human nature not as fixed, but rather as changing. It promotes emancipation through democratic dialogue, as a means of achieving freedom and equal opportunities for self-fulfillment and meaningful relationships with the world and with other people. The course will be non-disciplinary, or if you prefer, cross disciplinary, or interdisciplinary. The study of any subject immediately immerses one in physics, cosmology, anthropology, mass communications, religion, psychology, economics, political science, well you get the idea. The course is designed therefore to recruit students from all disciplines so they can contribute their expertise to the discussion. The materials for the course will include a variety of scholarly articles. Also film, fiction, art, music, architecture; newspapers and other cultural artifacts. The course will be designed for graduate students, but may be open to motivated undergraduate students. Other faculty will be invited to participate as well. The course is predicated on the idea that everyday existence, from the most personal to the broadest politically, involve deep philosophical commitments and viewpoints; theory and praxis are united.


A.   A brief review of some philosophical roots of the Pre-Socratics of Hellenistic Greece. Establishing themes from the Cosmologists and the Sophists.


1.     Definitions

a.     Cosmology

b.     Ontology

2.     Change vs. Permanence— Cosmological/Ontological views

a.     Heraclitus of Ephesus

b.     Parmenides of Elea

3.     Observable Reality; Hidden Reality: the Sophists

a.     Antiphon the Sophist:

b.     Gorgias of Leontini

4.     Social Theory and the Relativity of Truth

a.     Protagoras of Abdera

b.     Anonymous author (probably student of Protagoras) of Dissoi Logoi

c.      Antiphon the Sophist


B.   A brief Review of Hermeneutics


1.     Defining Hermeneutics

a.     As interpretation

b.     Hermes

c.      Various meanings

d.     Typology (Crusius)

2.     Religious Hermeneutics

a.     Torah Exegesis

b.     Aristotle

c.      Reformation

3.     Other Renaissance Developments

a.     Philology

b.     Jurisprudence

c.      Philosophy

4.     Philosophical Hermeneuticsthe primacy of Being,

a.     Basic Features

i.       Dissolution of rational logocentrism

ii.     Stress on dialogue rather than system

b.     Sources of alienation and domination

i.       The subject-object dichotomy

ii.     Trends transcending the split: feminist theory and quantum consciousness

iii.  Alienation as caused by the split

iv.  Western logocentrisma and idealisma lead to domination

c.      Gradual Change: Philosophical Hermeneutics as Conservative

i.       Need to understand; emancipatory tendencies.

ii.     Need to rethink how we relate to ourselves and the world.

5.     Philosophy of ScienceStatements about observable events in nature.

a.     Observed with unaided sensory abilities or with the use of instruments.

b.     Science generalizes these observations

c.      Science tries to find functional relationships between these variables.

d.     Most statements in science are probabilistic; other constraints on establishing absolute truth

e.      Operationism and logical positivism limit that which can be stated securely to those laws yielded by a-d.

f.       Theoretical statements may try to elaborate those functional relationships.

g.     Theories are more convincing when they are found to apply to a larger class of events than that from which they were derived (prediction).

h.     Constraints posed by the difficulty of stating propositions in a falsifiable manner due to their complexity.

i.       Charges of the critics of operationism are mostly wrong.

j.       Science should strive to promote of human rights. No science is conducted without an interaction with cultural values and practices.

C.   A Brief Review of Postmodernism


1.     Critical Theory (The Frankfort School)

a.     Horkheimer: critique of domination and project of emancipation. New forms of domination (World War II and post WWII)

i.       Bureaucratic socialism of eastern Europe

ii.     Rise of fascism in Central Europe

iii.  Birth of mass culture (the ‘culture industry) in Western Europe and US

b.     Additional Setbacks to Critiquing Society

i.       Decolonizaton more difficult to critique

ii.     Feminist movement shows other forms of domination deeply imbedded

iii.  Modes of communication have changed society

c.      Despite difficulties, Critical Theory “Goes Against the Grain of a Legitimating Process Endemic to Power Formations”

2.     Post-Structuralism
Poststructuralists want to avoid forms of political oppression that are legitimized by resorts to reason

a.     Definitions

i.       ‘Subject: like ‘individual’ except not limited to rational thought

ii.     constructivism

b.     Lacan

i.       Committed to ‘subject’ via commitment to Hegel and psychoanalysis

ii.     His psychoanalysis reconciles Marxism and existentialism

iii.  No separation between self and society

iv.  His language fuses the theoretical and the poetic to slow the reader down, not to convince, but to make one think.

v.     Fuses phenomenology [free self] and strucuralism [linguistic determinism]

vi.  Anti-biological.

vii.            Interested in mathematical logic and poetry.

viii.         Based on structural anthropology and linguistics

c.      Derrida (& Nietzsche & Hardy)

i.       “Language cannot be transcended to reach the thing signified while disposing of the signifier.” [bh p. 1165]

ii.     Langugae is unstable, sous rature highlights the dynamic connection to multiple meanings

iii.  This position elaborated from dynamics-complexity view by Hardy

iv.  Deconstruction

v.     Creation creates exclusion

vi.  Exclusion can become repressive

vii.            Also decentered language: Bakhtin, Wittgenstein, Korzybski.

viii.         There is no certainty, but longing for it spawns oppositions.

ix.  Derrida wants to rid the world of such oppositions = emancipation.

d.     Nietzsche

e.      Sartre

f.       Foucault

3.     Post-Analytic Philosophy; Pragmatic and Neopragmatic Philosophy

a.     Rorty

b.     Others: Davidson, Putnam, Quine

c.      Also: Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead, Santayana, Sellars, Wright, Hu Shi, Niebuhr, Hook, Haack, Lewis, Toulmin, West, Habermas, Margolis, many others.

d.     But where does Charles Taylor fit?

D.   Post-Colonialism & Liberation Theology


1.     Post-Colonialism

a.     Description

b.     Bhabha—Extended postmodern concerns to the analysis of neocolonial forms of oppression and exploitation.

c.      Identity, Subordination, Power Structures

d.     European Domination of 85% of globe’ Interaction of Colonial Powers to the Colonized Cultures.

e.      Non-independent countries, minority cultures, neo-colonial forms of subjugation through expanding capitalism and globalization

f.       Contesting colonial discourses, power structures, and social hierarchies

g.     Edward Said (1980)—Western Attitudes Toward Moslem Cultures Comprised of Crude Caricatures Such as to make that World Vulnerable to Military Aggression.

2.     John Crossan, The Birth of Christianity

3.     Liberation Theology and Liberation Education

a.     Jesus

b.     Malcolm X

c.      Jeremiah Wright

d.     Gutiérrez—Stamp out Poverty and Injustice (Plagge)

4.     Father Paulo Freire

5.     Kurt Lewin

6.     Martin- Baró

7.     Linda Dennard

8.     The Philippine Experience

a.     Bankhoff & Weekley

b.     Juan

c.      Fontejon-Benoir—liberalizing education; via empowerment of students

d.     Hidalgo

e.      Silliman Journal, inc Oracion

9.     Globalization

a.     Post-American Power Distribution

i.       Friedman—The World is Flat

ii.     ZakariaThe Post American World

iii.  Both realistic picture of changing world; but promote globalization

iv.  Rashid—Militant Islam

v.     Mortenson—Three Cups of Tea—personal view of Pakistan (education important)

vi.  Deibert: Mass communication as involved in globalization (see infra).

b.     Encirclement—Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland (missle defense system), oil, gas, NATO, Obama vs McCain views.


E.   Systems Theory, Media & Mode of Communication, Gender


1.     Systems Theory & Complexity

a.     Spatio-temporal patterns generated by interaction of many factors

b.     Bifurcations: Sudden emergence or change in patterns of system behavior

c.      Chaos theory: complex patterns of behavior of systems

d.     Self-organization and emergence

2.     Mass Media-The Toronto School

a.     Innes—History is discontinuous and interactive with media changes

b.     MacLuhan—The Global Village

c.      DeibertParchment, Printing, and HypermediMedia Theory

3.     Mode of Communication—Mark Poster: Language primary for social transformations

4.     Social Systems Theory

a.     Parsons—System as guiding conceptual scheme

b.     Luhmann-Habermas Debates—Sytstem theory needed for impartiality vs discourse by humans

c.      Relates to subject-individual distinction

d.     Relates to economic implosion fix by free market vs government control

e.      R.H. Abraham: Systems theory important hermeneutic circle to evolving social systems

5.     Gender

a.     Scientific (psychology) revolution

i.       Murphy & Abraham

ii.     Crawford & Maracek

iii.  Sikolohiyang Pilipino

iv.  Science, Psychology not neutral, exists in social context

v.     Riger/Gergen on changes in Methodology via feminist psychology

b.     Postmodern

i.       Kristeva

ii.     Cixous

iii.  Hutcheon

iv.  HarawayWolmark on HarawayA Cyborg Manifesto and Cybersexualities

v.     Abraham & Abraham

vi.  Creativity and Social Change

6.     Evolution and Moral Sensibility (Loye)

a.     Darwin—Evolution of ‘highest part of our nature’, Descent of Man

b.     Jefferson—Moral Democratic Society with separation of church and state

c.      Loye—Creativity over Conformity

d.     Loye—Darwin on moral development

e.      Loye—Importance of changes in psychology and systems theory for moral development


F.    Post Human Conditions—What Are the Essential Aspects of Being Human, and What are Their Responsibilities?

1.     Legal

a.     Legal Rights of Androids/Chimera

b.     Metaphysics of Androids/Chimera

2.     Religious

a.     Metaphysics

b.     Ethics

3.     Natural-Secular-NeoPragmatism

a.     Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

b.     Making Androids Human-like

c.      Change Requires Instability; Systems View

d.     “What then about intelligent life that can self-reflect and even transcend our limited consciousness? Humans have indeed come forth in our manifest cosmos. And humans, as evolving life forms and cultures, are surely not finished. How might we personally develop; how might life forms evolve? At this dangerous crossroads for planet Earth and our own individual futures, how can we better live for ourselves and for all of creation, while manifesting the underlying beauty of a cosmos that holds the mysteries of life? Perhaps everyday creativity can help show us the way.” [Ruth Richards, 2007]



Readings and Exercises


Each week we will read one article in common, each pick another article of their own choosing, browse for additional material related to some topic of interest, both on the internet and a library, and write a brief paper on some aspect of the week’s topic of interest. There will be one lecture, presentations, and discussion each week. There may be special exercises as well. Here is the first one.


Browse the whole syllabus, and pick a topic or word with which you might not be too familiar or about which want to know more. As you browse, keep track of the sequence of your browsing, for the first six steps. Here is an example.


Suppose we pick the term ‘emancipation’ as something we generally know what it means, but might want to pin it down a bit more. So we might do the following:



1.     Google ‘emancipation’ The first item googled is at Wikipedia, not a bad place to start, so you might click the first item or wherever Wikipedia occurs

2.     At the Wikipedia article on emancipation there are many links to related topics, I got curious about the last one on how the subject was treated in a popular US TV program, so I clicked Emancipation (House). The medical case deals with an emancipated minor, and penetrates the problems associated with that status when dealing with the legal implications of medical treatment for an emancipated minor. I have to decide whether to pursue what is an emancipated minor, is it a legal position or a self-imposed psychological position (minors can divorce from their parents), or return to Wikipedia. There is no link to emancipated minors, so I try to Google it. The Google list includes a Wikipedia entry, and I don’t have to click that item as its dexcription already states it as a legal position. So I look at the first item in for any other angles. Back to Emancipation at Wikipedia

3.     Clicked Self-Determination, also a Wikipedia article. Deals with it as a national issue, whch relates it to the Post-Colonial topic of this course. One of the topics deals with the right to succeed, a topic very active on the gobal scene today. There is a section on current movements, which includes Australia, Israel/Palestine, Kurdistan, Indian Kasmir, Taiwan, Turkish Cypriots, and the USA. They should have also included the separatist movements in the Philippines, Georgia, and several other nations as well. Besides the numerous links to other pages ans web sited in the body of the article, there were additional links. I picked one to chase, clicking on an external link: The Center for World Indigenous Studies.

4.     Their web site had mainly brief descriptions and links to various media and web efforts. I clicked on a link titled “World War and the Fourth World”. WWFW

5.     The WWFW page gave a synopsis of their basic program that mentioned several conflicts (Kashmir, Tibet, Chechnya, Papua, Tamils, Palestinians, and ending with an indictment of USA for using its war on terrorism to “quell legitimate movements of self-determination.” Very interesting. Then I returned to the initial article on Emancipation in Wikipedia, where I then clicked on “Emancipation of Women” which was a link to the Wikipedia article on Feminism.

6.     This article was excellent coverage of the history of feminism and approached the topic from several philosophic and cultural perspectives such as Socialist & Marxist Feminism, Radical Feminism, Liberal Feminism, Black Feminism, Postcolonial feminism and third world feminism, Multiracial feminism, Libertarian feminism, Post-structural and postmodern feminism, Ecofeminism, Society, Civil rights, Language, Heterosexual relationships, Religion, Culture, Women’s writing, Feminist Science Fiction, Riot grrrl movement, and many more. This is an excellent article and could be the foundation of a course on feminism.


The original article on emancipation was not particularly good, but it still led to a huge expansion to very useful information. The first assignment for the course is to try a similar exercise with any relevant topic and to document it similar to what I have done here. At the end, state what was the most interesting thing you learned on this journey. Try to hold it down to a one page if single spaced; two pages if double spaced.




21 January 2009; updated 8 February 2009; 20 July 2010