African American Philosophy

PHIL 460

african american phil
  • Fall 2023
  • Time: Wed, 2:30 – 5:30
  • Location:167 Willard

How does the African American experience generate distinctive philosophical engagements with notions such as subjectivity, gender, belonging and home-making, practices of democracy and cultural production. This course looks at key thinkers and cultural practitioners from/integrally related to the African American intellectual tradition, all of whom grapple with the above questions within a context generated by the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its legacies of anti- blackness. Readings will include works by Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Alain Locke, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston,, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Toni Morrison. In so doing, the course develops a deeper understanding of how modern slavery, racial hierarchies and settler colonialism not only shape African American and Afro-diasporic conceptions of being, knowing and doing, but also the critical practice of Philosophy itself.

(*indicates book purchase/**indicates pdf on Canvas)

According to Penn State policy G-9: Academic Integrity, an academic integrity violation is “an intentional, unintentional, or attempted violation of course or assessment policies to gain an academic advantage or to advantage or disadvantage another student academically.” Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, you must complete all course work entirely on your own, using only sources that have been permitted by your instructor, and you may not assist other students with papers, quizzes, exams, or other assessments. You may not use any online sites (e.g., Course Hero or Chegg), technologies (e.g., ChatGPT, language translators), tools, or sources for your assignments in this course. Students with questions about academic integrity should ask their instructor before submitting work.

Active class participation: 25%

Your class participation grade has two components. (1) This course is a seminar. Hence, your active participation is required for your (and our) overall success. You are expected to critically engage with the texts, as well as with your peers during our class-time conversations. This component of your class participation grade will assess your sustained contributions to our collective conversations throughout the semester. (2) Toward the end of the semester (Nov 29), our graduate students will present their final papers to our undergraduate students. This component of your class participation grade will assess (i) clear and accessible presentations from our graduate student presenters and (ii) from our undergraduates, active engagement with and valuable questions about presentations.

Class presentation: 20%

You will lead the discussion of a selected text for the first 45 minutes of class. In your discussion, you should (1) provide a summary of the text that highlights the major issues raised by the author; (2) analyze the content consistent with the themes of our course; and (3) pose two/three questions of topical and thematic import for class discussion. Class presentation assignments and scheduling will be posted on Canvas. Be sure to note when and on what text you present.

For Undergraduate Students

Two short-response papers: 30%

For each response paper (15% each), you will write a 2-page/single-spaced critical assessment of a text (of your choosing) that we read and discussed as a class. You must adhere to the following due dates: paper 1 due on Sept 27; paper 2 due on Oct 25.

Annotated bibliography: 25%

For your cumulative assessment for this course, you will prepare an annotated bibliography of at least ten (10) sources. Your sources should include no more than five (5) texts from our syllabus.

For Graduate Students

One-page paper proposal and bibliography: 15%

No later than Sept 27, you will submit a one-page proposal for your final paper. This proposal should include your guiding question(s) and/or themes, the text(s) and/or figure(s) on which you plan to focus, and a brief description of the stakes (in other words, your ‘why’) of your critical analysis. You should also include a list of the texts you anticipate working with for the paper.

Draft of final paper: 15%

No later than Oct 25, you will submit a draft of your final paper for instructor feedback. This draft should be no more than 3000 words.

Final paper: 25%

For your cumulative assessment for this course, you will submit a critical analysis paper (5000 – 6000 words) on an approved course-related theme of your choice. It may examine one author at length or multiple authors/texts, providing a comparative analytical discussion. See above for

Wed Aug 23: First day of class
  • Course introduction, Presentation assignments & scheduling
Prepare the following readings for discussion:
  • Souls, “The Forethought”
  • Darkwater, “Introduction” and “Postscript”
  • Douglass, What the Black Man Wants” (1865)
  • The New Negro, “What is an African American Classic” and “Introduction”
  • The Source of Self-Regard, “Peril”
  • “Africana Philosophy and Philosophy in Black”, Gordon
  • “To the Nations of the World (1900)”, Du Bois
Wed Aug 30: Class on Zoom
  • Darkwater, chpt. I – V
  • You Don’t Know Us Negros, “On Politics”, pp. 233 - 258
Wed Sept 6: Class on Zoom
  • Darkwater, chpt. VI – X
  • The Fire Next Time, Baldwin
  • Source of Self-Regard, “James Baldwin’s Eulogy”
Wed Sept 13
  • Souls, chpt. I - VII
  • Voice from the South, section I
  • The Source of Self-Regard, “The Slavebody and the Blackbody”
Wed Sept 20
  • Souls, chpt. VIII - XIV
  • A Voice from the South, section II
  • The Essential Writings (King), “The Case Against ‘Tokenism’”, “Bold Design for a New South”
  • Source of Self-Regard, “Race Matters”
Wed Sept 27 (Undergrads: first short-response paper due/Grad students: paper proposal due)
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, “Preface” – “Another Link to Life”
  • You Don’t Know Us Negros, “Race and Gender”, pp. 151 – 190
Wed Oct 4
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, “Continued Persecutions” – “New Destination for the Children”
  • You Don’t Know Us Negros, “Race and Gender”, pp. 191 - 223
Wed Oct 11: Class on Zoom
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, “Aunty Nancy” – “Free At Last”
  • The Light of Truth (Wells), chpt II: “To Call a Thing by Its True Name”
Wed Oct 18
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Preface – chpt. VI
  • The Source of Self-Regard, “The Foreigner’s Home”, “Racism and Fascism”, “Home”
Wed Oct 25 (Undergrads: second short-response paper due/Grad students: paper draft due)
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, chpt. VII – XI
  • The Light of Truth (Wells), Chpt V: “Twentieth-Century Journalism and Letters”
Wed Nov 1
  • The Light of Truth (Wells), Chpt V: “Twentieth-Century Journalism and Letters”
  • The Essential Writings, “The Time for Freedom Has Come”, “In a Word: Now”, “Negros Are Not Moving Too Fast”
Wed Nov 8
  • The New Negro, “A Space for Beauty”. 1 – 57
  • Du Bois, “Criteria of Negro Art”
  • You Don’t Know Us Negros, “On Art and Such”, pp. 107 – 128
  • Source of Self-Regard, “Literature and Public Life” and “The Nobel Prize in Literature”
Wed Nov 15
  • The New Negro, “Literacies”, pp. 61 - 135
  • You Don’t Know Us Negros, “On Art and Such”, pp. 134 – 148
  • Source of Self-Regard, “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature”
Wed Nov 22: Thanksgiving Break Wed Nov 29
  • Graduate students’ paper presentations
Wed Dec 6: Last day of class (on Zoom)