Shannon Hoff‎ > ‎

My Teaching

Most Recent Courses Taught at ICS
About My Teaching

Many of the courses I teach at the Institute are devoted to topics that are alive in contemporary political discussions, such as forgiveness, law and liberalism, feminist politics, difference, and deconstruction, but they also treat significant figures from the history of philosophy.

Deconstruction and Politics explores the principle of political inclusion, democracy's basic commitment, in Derridean fashion, exploring how in its very fulfillment it is both realized and undermined. It introduces the tension between political universality and the specificity of home and polis by discussing Badiou, Kant, and St. Paul on the one hand and Heidegger on the other, using these thinkers to open the discussion of Derrida's work on law, justice, democracy, and hospitality. The course concludes by exploring Balibar's treatment of similar themes.

My course on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit undertakes a study of the nature of self-conscious life as it is expressed and unfolded in the world of value--in politics, morality, and religion. It begins with Hegel's account of the way in which self-consciousness exists only in being recognized, and explores the rich history of that world of recognition in the chapters on spirit and religion.

The course on forgiveness begins with Hegel, who argues that the practice of forgiveness uniquely fulfills the needs of our human condition: since our action is always intersubjective, we are always transgressing upon and being transgressed by others, and addressing mutual transgression leads to establishing laws and shared systems of communication, which will also always fail to recognize the irreducible singularity of our experience and action. Upon this basis, the course continues by treating Arendt's similar understanding of forgiveness as necessary for political agency and interaction, and concludes by discussing Derrida's demonstration of the essential aporias of forgiveness and the related imperative to hospitality.

Feminist Social Thought begins by discussing in what sense the situation of women is a philosophical and political issue. It studies three basic topics or social/political models that have developed out of feminist reflections on the situation of women: Simone de Beauvoir and her notion of an apprenticeship of freedom, the ethics and politics of care, and feminist criticisms and revaluations of law and legal protection.Its goal is to explore the ways in which analysis of the situation of women is productive for social and political philosophy--for accurate analysis of social reality and for its effective transformation.

The Self and Its Others: Identity, Difference and Responsibility examines a) the notion that subjectivity is produced historically in relation to a larger social and political context, as well as b) the consequences of this phenomenon for thinking about political justice and responsibility. Its focus is de Beauvoir's and Fanon's discussions of sexual, racial, and post-colonial identity. It sets up the philosophical issues by discussing Plato's identification of the various aspects of identity and R. D. Laing's notion of "ontological security," and unpacks them by discussing important writings from Virginia Woolf, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Tamim Ansary. It concludes with a viewing of Satyajit Ray's The Home and the World.

Liberalism is the central idea behind the cultural revolution that brought into being the modern Western world. The first half of Liberalism and Its Critics studies the most powerful articulations of this politics of modernity in Locke, Smith, and Rawls. The second half treats a different cultural vision in authors who, while respectful of central principles of liberalism, nonetheless challenge this politics: Martin Heidegger, Frantz Fanon, and John Russon. Each argues that the vision of human individuals that underlies classic liberalism rests on an insufficient appreciation of the social dynamism that underlies that individualist vision.

Body, Language, Power: The Question of the Human in 20th-Century French Philosophy treats significant accounts of the nature of human beings in 20th-century French continental philosophy. It begins by investigating the existential-phenomenological conceptions of human nature developed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and then takes up the development and transformation of this story in Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and Michel Foucault, who oppose to the humanist model of the well-formed and autonomous individual the model of persons as dispersed into networks of language and power.

The Rational Individual and the Social Contract: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx explores the notion that society is based on a fundamental pact or a contract among autonomous individuals—a very old idea in political philosophy that has had a significant impact on existing laws and political institutions, both positive and negative. The course investigates the way this idea is both developed and challenged by a number of classical authors: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx.

Person, Family and Society is a course designed for the MWS program, and reflects on the nature of the social world, aiming at the development of an existentially and philosophically rich Christian sensitivity to the complexity of the social relationships that shape us and make claims on us. Challenging the common view that individuals are fully independent and self-made realities, it looks at the different kinds of communities that define us, in restrictive, enabling and conflicting ways: family, political society, religious community, and groups formed on the basis of other kinds of shared identities. The course includes readings from diverse philosophical, religious, literary, and social-scientific texts.

I have also participated in three of ICS’ interdisciplinary seminars (IDS), Ethics After Auschwitz; Truth in Contemporary Thought; and Way, Truth and Life: (Re)Visioning of Truth from the PreSocratics to Hegel, which have involved most or all of the senior and junior members. The first explores the work of Adorno and Levinas, two philosophers whose ethical thought was shaped by their experience in Germany during the Nazi regime. Truth in Contemporary Thought works with contemporary approaches to truth developed by Lambert Zuidervaart (another senior member at ICS), Heidegger, Horkheimer, Nietzsche, Foucault, and American Pragmatism, while the topic of Way, Truth and Life is truth as it has been conceived of and discussed in the history of philosophy. I have also taught and co-taught one of ICS’ required courses, Religion, Life and Society: Reformational Philosophy, on the work of first- and second-generation Reformational philosophers and of figures in mainstream analytic and continental philosophy.