Ideas of the Twentieth Century


... the key idea behind civilization, and indeed all progress, is that there is something out there that represents the truth. It exists independently of us. We cannot simply make it up. Once that is grasped, all else is detail….

    ... the most critical part of political theory lies in acknowledging that human institutions are not the ultimate sources of authority. They live within the world of the unread book.—Richard Fernandez, “Bows and Flows

What ought to be taught in schools: to attend and get things right.—Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals

Course Description

Friedrich Nietzsche predicted that the twentieth century would be a century of great wars.  It was.  More than one hundred million people died in wars; about the same number died at the hands of their own governments.  

In its early years, philosophers, scientists, psychologists, artists, musicians, poets, and writers of fiction overthrew our understanding of the physical world, of human behavior, of thought and its limits, and our understanding of art, creativity, and beauty. The challenge of totalitarianism confronted those committed to freedom. The devastation of two World Wars raised deep questions about the nature and meaning of human existence.

This course will explore these themes as they develop in twentieth-century philosophy, history, literature, and art.

Required Texts

   Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

   Iris Murdoch, Under the Net


Plus a variety of readings online, linked from the syllabus.


The University of Texas at Austin, Fall 2019                                                     

MWF 2:00 – 2:50 pm, MEZ 1.306

You may download the information on the course web site in a PDF document.


UT.2.02x, Ideas of the Twentieth Century, is offered online, for free, by EdX, a consortium of universities founded by MIT and Harvard. So far, 50,000 have enrolled in the online version of the course. Around 2,000 students have taken the in-class version at UT.

Core Texts and Ideas

This course counts towards the Certificate Program in Core Texts and Ideas, a 6-course sequence in the great books, ideas, and controversies that have shaped Western civilization. The program is open to students in all majors and colleges. For more information, visit or email the academic director, Lorraine Pangle

Lectures from previous iterations of this course are posted on dedicated playlists on my YouTube channel.