Courses available in French


Tout est dit, et l’on vient trop tard.

— La Bruyère

French 176: Literature and Philosophy — French and Francophone Literature and Philosophy


Selected Readings

Course Description:

Philosophy has been intertwined with literature at least since Plato and Aristotle explored the merits of poetry and poets.  During the Enlightenment, however, French authors such as Rousseau, Voltaire, and Diderot forged what contemporary philosopher Alan Badiou termed a “singular alliance” between literature and philosophy as they sought to create and popularize new scientific knowledge, critique and reform the political and social orders, and bring into being new forms of subjectivity and personhood, all while establishing themselves as among the foremost stylists in the French language.

These “philosophes” made major specific ethical, political, and aesthetic contributions; in so doing, they also reflected on general questions that animate the “alliance” of literature and philosophy, such as:

How do properly literary works participate in philosophical and ethical inquiry?

How can philosophical investigation explain the power of literary works?

How does literature self-consciously reflect on its own role in the creation of ethical culture?

How can specific literary forms and genres (theater, novel, lyric) address specific philosophical demands or ethical obligations?

In addition, we will examine the, often overlooked, contribution of women to the French Enlightenment as writers, translators, and interlocutors.   We will ask: could a woman be a “philosophe”?

French 176 will study these fundamental problems as it engages deeply with the works of the French “philosophes.”  We will also consider the material and structural conditions for the creation and dissemination of knowledge: censorship, the book trade, exile, and more.


French 102 or consent of instructor.

Additional information:

This course satisfies one “Culture” or one “Elective” requirement in the French major. Course also satisfies one Historical Period Requirement in French Major.  Satisfies College of Letters and Science breadth in Philosophy and Values or Arts and Literature.  Accepted for French minor.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes