On Self-Identity in High Modern Age 2024

The Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW) and University of Amsterdam invite 1st / 2nd year ReMa students in philosophy to register for the course On Self-Identity in High Modern Age to take place in March – May 2024.

Organizing university

University of Amsterdam


Wed 27 March, Wed 10, 17 and 24 April and Wed 8, 15 and 22 May 2024 from 12:00-15:00


University of Amsterdam, Oudemanhuispoort (OMHP).

OMHP C1.05 for the introduction session on Tuesday 27 March;
OMHP C1.23 for all other lectures in April and May.

Type of activity


Primary target group

1st / 2nd year ReMa students in philosophy

If places available, also open to

Philosophy PhD candidates. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to assistant.director@ozsw.nl to be put on a waiting list.

Application/registration deadline

The deadline for registration is March 1, 2024.

About the topic

Modernity is usually understood from the perspective that science and technology allow successful control over processes in the domains of nature, society and psyche. As a consequence humans are no longer immersed in an extrinsically given world order, in which their identity is determined by the place they take in their by traditions governed communities. They see themselves as beings that can shape the specific lives they live by themselves. One of the ways in which then one’s identity may find expression is a life story. In the modern era the psychological novel arises, in which contingent life events have to be placed in an order or plot necessary for the leading character to find his identity.

By now, modernizing processes have changed. The success of simple or linear control, envisaged by modern humans, has brought about a new type of uncontrollability that is intrinsic to the modern attitude itself. It has become inevitable for humans to reflect upon what it means to be modern. Narrative identity undergoes a significant change. One’s being a self has become a reflexive project, in which one has to construct the trajectory of one’s life in the form of a biography of the self. When one fails to accomplish this task, one is befallen by a suffering from an existential condition of burnout.

Our high modern culture may be characterized as a period in which a people are suffering from a loss of direct contact with what it entails to experience meaningfulness, or what it needs to lead a good life. How should one respond to this, without losing the rewards of actually being modern? One of the possible replies will be the claim that it will be necessary to have societal structures which do not give an answer to the question what it means to have an identity, but that are able to support humans to keep this question alive as a question.

Aim / objective

Students will become acquainted with a selected number of philosophical texts that address the question: what can be meant if one speaks of a ‘self’ in high modernity? More specific:

(i) Has the way in which people acquire a narrative identity changed during the transition from modernity to high modernity?
(ii) What can in our time be learnt from Hegel’s thoughts on freedom, self- relatedness and self-realization?
(iii) How can we live an ethical life in high modernity? E.g. by giving up total control in favour of receptivity? Or by institutionalizing how to endure continual self-reflection?


One introductory meeting, six regular sessions
0. Introductory meeting and organization of the seminar
1. Narrative identity, in two forms: (i) interpretative life story, (ii)
constructed biography.
2. Must we let go the idea of controllability of our lives in order to let them
be meaningful?
3. Hegel on modern freedom; and an introduction to his philosophy of right.
4. Actualizing freedom in modern society on three levels: ‘family’, ‘civil
society’ and ‘state’.
5. Institutionalizing continuous reflection on what it is to have a self.
6. Articulation of identity, and of what makes life meaningful.


Dr Maarten Coolen (University of Amsterdam)

Required preparations

0. Han, B.-C. 2015. The Burnout Society. Translated by E. Butler. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Original Title: Müdigkeitsgesellschaft, 2010. [Especially Pages 8-11, 35-51.]

1. Ricoeur, P. 1991. ‘Narrative Identity’. Philosophy Today 35 (1): 73-81. Giddens, A. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. [Introduction, chapter 1.]

Beck, U. 1997. The Reinvention of Politics: Rethinking Modernity in the Global Social Order. Translated by M. Ritter. Cambridge: Polity Press [p11-28].

2. Rosa, H. 2020. The Uncontrollability of the World. Translated by J. C. Wagner. Cambridge, UK ; Medford, MA: Polity Press. Original Title: Unverfügbarkeit, 2018. [Whole book.]

3. Hegel, G. W. F. 2008. Outlines of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by T.M. Knox. Revised, edited and introduced by Stephen Houlgate. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. Original Title: Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. [Sections 5-7, and other sections still to be announced.]

Houlgate, S., Introduction, in book mentioned above.
For those students who prefer to read Hegel in German, choose the edition: Hegel, G.W.F. 1986. Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, oder Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse: Mit Hegels eigenhändigen Notizen und den mündlichen Zusätzen. Herausgegeben von E. Moldenhauer & K. M. Michel. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

4. Peperzak, A. T. 2001. Modern Freedom: Hegel’s Legal, Moral, and Political Philosophy. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. [A few selected passages, which will be available as handout].

Hegel, G. W. F. 2008. Outlines of the Philosophy of Right [Sections to be announced].

5. Schelsky, H. 1965. ‘Can Continual Reflection Be Institutionalized?’. Cross Currents 15 (2): 171-189. Translated by H. Frommelt and G. Roy. Original Title: ’Ist die Dauerreflexion institutionalisierbar?’, (1957). In: Auf Suche nach Wirklichkeit: 250-275. Düsseldorf & Köln: Diederichs,1965.

Giddens, A. 1991 [Chapter 7.]

6. Taylor, C. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. [Chapters 1–4.]

Last updated October 13, 2023.

Certificate / credit points

For this course participants can earn a certificate after successful completion. Please note, however, that the OZSW is not accredited to reward students with credits/ECTS directly. The study load is mentioned on the certificate, which can usually be exchanged for ‘real’ credits (ECTS) at your home university. The study load for this activity is: 6 ECTS


Attendance is free for ReMa students who are members of the OZSW or another Research School in Humanities, and, if places are left, also for other OZSW members.

Attendance is 300 euros for all others.

Additional costs, as purchase of the texts and travel costs are at the student’s expense.

How to apply / register

Note that the exact dates on which the weekly seminar takes place will be published on this OZSW-site on 1 December 2023, when the teaching schedule for the second semester at the University of Amsterdam is definite.

Important: PhD candidates can register for the course as well, but ReMa students are the primary target group. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to assistant.director@ozsw.nl to be put on a waiting list. You will be notified after the registration deadline if there are places available and if you can register and join the course.

If registration has been closed because the maximum amount of participants has been reached, you can submit your name to the waiting list by sending an email to assistant.director@ozsw.nl . Please also indicate whether you are a ReMa student or PhD candidate and whether you are a member of the OZSW or not.

Registration/application form

If registration has been closed because the maximum amount of participants has been reached, you can submit your name to the waiting list by sending an email to secretariaat@ozsw.nl. Please also indicate whether you are a ReMa student or PhD candidate and whether you are a member of the OZSW or not.

Cancellation and registration policy


Dr Maarten Coolen < t.m.t.coolen@xs4all.nl >
Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam