On Self-Identity in High Modern Age

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 Spring 2023.

Organizing university

University of Amsterdam


6th and 20th February, 6th and 20th March, 3rd and 17th April, 8th May and 5th June, 2023 from 15:00 to 18:00


University of Amsterdam

Type of activity


Primary target group

1st / 2nd year ReMa students in philosophy

If places available, also open to

PhD candidates. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to secretariaat@ozsw.nl to be put on a waiting list. You will be notified after January 9th if you can register and join the course.

Application/registration deadline

The deadline for registration is on January 9, 2023.

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 community. They see themselves as beings that can shape the specific lives they live by themselves, at least to a certain extent. One of the ways in which 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. This marks the advent of what is called high or reflexive modernity. Narrative identity then 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, not only by describing past and present, but also by projecting a desired future. To have an identity means to be able to keep one’s biography going. When one fails to accomplish this task, one is befallen by a suffering from an existential condition of burnout.

In order to have an identity, one’s life has to make sense in some way or another. 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? The aim of this course is to consider possible replies to this question. One of these 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 people to keep this question alive as a question.


One introductory meeting, six regular sessions and one evaluative meeting which is dedicated to discussing the students’ papers. The meetings will all take place on Mondays 15:00-18:00 at the University of Amsterdam.

  1. Feb 6: Introduction to and organization of the seminar
  2. Feb 20: The phenomenon of burnout.
  3. Mar 6: Processes of reflexive modernization.
  4. Mar 20: (i) Narrative identity; (ii) Freedom.
  5. Apr 3: (i) Is uncontrollability a condition of life being meaningful? (ii) Freedom and self-reflection.
  6. Apr 17: Ethical life: ‘family’, ‘civil society’ and ‘state’.
  7. May 8: Institutionalizing continuous self-reflection.
  8. Jun 5: Discussing the students’ papers and evaluation.


Dr Maarten Coolen (University of Amsterdam)

Required preparations

Required preparations

1. Han, B.-C. 2015. The Burnout Society. Translated by E. Butler. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Original Title: Müdigkeitsgesellschaft, 2010. [Pages 8-11, 35-51.] 2. Han. B.-C., 2015. [Whole Book.] Giddens, A. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late
Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press. [Introduction, chapter 1.] 3. Beck, U. 1997. The Reinvention of Politics: Rethinking Modernity in the Global Social Order. Translated by M. Ritter. Cambridge: Polity Press. [Introduc- tion, chapters 1 & 2.] Giddens, A. 1991 [Chapter 7.] 4. (i) Ricoeur, P. 1991. ‘Narrative Identity’. Philosophy Today 35 (1): 73-81. (ii) 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.]

For those students who prefer to read Hegel in German, choose the edition: Hegel, G.W.F. 1986. Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, oder Natur- recht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse: Mit Hegels eigenhändigen Notizen und den mündlichen Zusätzen. Herausgegeben von E. Moldenhau- er & K. M. Michel. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
5. (i) 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.] (ii) Hegel, G.W.F. 2008. [Amongst others sections 34, 35, 41.] 6. Hegel, G.W.F. 2008. [Sections to be selected.] 7. Schelsky, H. 1965. ‘Can Continual Reflection Be Institutionalized?’. Cross Currents 15 (2): 171-189. Translated by H. Frommelt and G. Roy. Orig- inal Title: ’Ist die Daurreflexion institutionalisierbar?’, (1957). In: Auf Suche nach Wirklichkeit: 250-275. Düsseldorf & Köln: Diederichs, 1965.
Taylor, C. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity.
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. [Chapters 1–4.]

I still have to decide on which book would be a good companion to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. For those students who read Dutch, I would advise: Heyde, L. 1987. De verwerkelijking van de vrijheid: Een inleiding in Hegels rechtsfilosofie. Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven. A possible candidate in English: Peperzak, A. T. 2001. Modern Freedom: Hegel’s Legal, Moral, and Political Philosophy. Dor- drecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


 Attendance at all session meetings, presentation of questions about the texts during the sessions, and a short final paper (3000-4000 words).

Last updated September 5, 2022.

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. For more info please see https://www.ozsw.nl/request-certificate/. 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

ReMa students can register through this link.

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 secretariaat@ozsw.nl to be put on a waiting list. You will be notified after January 9th 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 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 & Dr Elsbeth Brouwer
Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam
E-mail: t.m.t.coolen@uva.nle.c.brouwer@uva.nl