PHIL 4450: Special Topics:
Modernity and Liberation

Student Materials


First Paper

Second Paper

What is modernity, and how should we understand its past, present, and potential future? Is it a good thing — a historical development that should be universally praised and regarded as normative? Or is there more to modernity than democracy, science, secularism, technology, and the lofty ideal of reason? These are important questions, and in this course we will explore them across numerous readings and two documentary films.

In the first part of this course, we will consider modernity from the standpoint of some of its greatest defenders. We will read Kant, Bacon, Condorcet, Gibbon, and Jefferson, and we will try to outline the most important features of modernity — from a Western perspective.

In the second part of this course, we will look at the Latin American critiques of modernity by reading Las Casas, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff, Freire, Dussel, Alcoff, Mignolo, Anzaldúa, and Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation). We will also watch the film Zapatista, which chronicles the early days of the Zapatista movement.

In the third and final part of this course, we will look at the Africana critiques of modernity by reading Walker, Du Bois, Césaire, Fanon, Davis, Oyěwùmí, and Wynter. We will also watch the film Concerning Violence, which explores Fanon's thought-provoking analysis of violence in the modern/colonial context.

These are the materials that we will cover:


“What Is Enlightenment?” by Immanuel Kant; PDF

“The New Science” by Francis Bacon; PDF

“The Future Progress of the Human Mind” by Marquis de Condorcet; PDF

“The Perfectibility of Man” by Marquis de Condorcet; PDF

“Of Empires and Savages” by Edward Gibbon; PDF

“On Indians and Negroes” by Thomas Jefferson; PDF


A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de Las Casas;

Introducing Liberation Theology by Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff;

Selections from Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire; PDF

“Liberation Philosophy from the Praxis of the Oppressed” by Enrique Dussel; PDF

“Enrique Dussel's Transmodernism” by Linda Martín Alcoff; PDF

“The Americas, Christian Expansion, and the Modern/Colonial Foundation of Racism” by Walter Mignolo; PDF

“How to Tame a Wild Tongue” by Gloria Anzaldúa; PDF

“The Fourth World War Has Begun” by Subcomandante Marcos; PDF

“Do Not Forget Ideas Are Also Weapons” by Subcomandante Marcos; PDF

Film: Zapatista


An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World by David Walker;

“The Conservation of Races” by W.E.B. Du Bois; PDF

“Of Our Spiritual Strivings” by W.E.B. Du Bois; PDF

Discourse on Colonialism by Amié Césaire;

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon;

Film: Concerning Violence

“Unfinished Lecture on Liberation – II” by Angela Y. Davis; PDF

“Visualizing the Body: Western Theories and African Subjects” by Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí; PDF

“1492: A New World View” by Sylvia Wynter; PDF

© Douglas Ficek