Santa Fe Liberal Arts Preceptorials
Summer 2015


Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
David Carl
Segment: Literature/Philosophy &Theology/Politics & Society

Democracy in America is a timeless investigation of the nature of democracy. Combining philosophy, political theory, sociology, cultural criticism, and the stylistic brilliance of a literary masterpiece, Tocqueville’s book raises questions at the heart of democracy as a political, social and cultural phenomenon: How does democracy arise as a response to European aristocracy? How does living in a democracy shape the character and intellect of its citizens? How do members of different races relate to one another in democratic society? How does a democratic nation navigate the power struggle between state and federal sovereignty? What are the global implications of the spread of democracy? Tocqueville’s visits to America in the 1830’s inspired one of the most insightful works of historical, political and cultural theory in the history of social thought. Moving beyond the constraints of his analysis of a particular nation at a particular time and place, Tocqueville aspires to reveal fundamental truths of human nature. In so doing he was one of the first thinkers to raise the questions of the status of women in a democracy, the threat of a tyranny of the majority, the relationship of political ideas to the shaping of a society’s norms and customs, and the tension between freedom and equality. Along the way he poses questions such as: “What form of nobility is possible in a democracy?”, “What is the nature of democratic ambition?”, “What is the relationship between democracy and the military?” and many others.


Spinoza,  Ethics
John Cornell
Segment: Politics & Society/Philosophy & Theology/Mathematics &Natural Science

Spinoza lived in a boarding house and supported himself by grinding lenses. Meanwhile, in his correspondence, he challenged the greatest minds of Europe.  Renouncing wealth, pleasure, and fame, he found contentment in working out a systematic teaching of the best way of life.

Goethe said of that teaching:  “In the Ethics of this man I found the serenity to calm my passions.  That wonderful sentence – ‘he who truly loves God must not desire God to love him in return’ – filled my whole subsequent thought.”

Howard Fisher
Segment: Mathematics/Philosophy & Theology

Readings and laboratory experiments investigating the nature of heat.  Since the study of heat draws on many areas of science, our readings will be diverse, including writings of Pascal, Fahrenheit, Black, Lavoisier, Carnot, Kelvin and Maxwell.  Our laboratory experiments will include work with the barometer, the gas laws, temperature scales, calorimetry, and the heat engine.


Rousseau, Julie, or the New Heloise: Letters of Two Lovers who live in a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps
Richard McCombs
Segment: Literature/Philosophy& Theology/Politics & Society

This preceptorial is a study of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s epistolary novel Julie, or the New Heloise: Letters of Two Lovers who live in a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps, which was the best-selling book of the 18th century.  Rousseau’s novel is about alternative ways of life that are centered, one on love, another on religion, and still others on friendship or philosophy.  It explores the goodness, virtue and happiness available in these various ways of life.  It critiques modernity, with its barren rationalism and urban artificiality, and it celebrates natural sentiments and a tranquil life in the country surrounded by nature.  Rousseau’s method is at once philosophical and romantic: that is, he conducts a philosophical investigation of modernity but also artfully expresses sentiments and passions that can make us either happy or wretched. 


Heidegger, Selected Essays
J. Walter Sterling
Segment: Literature/Politics & Society/Philosophy & Theology/Mathematics & Natural Science

Many have judged Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) the most influential, and perhaps the greatest, philosopher of the 20th century. Beyond the seminal work Being and Time and the famous lecture courses, he developed his later thinking especially through shorter writings and occasional pieces, which come to us (in translation) in collections of essays. We will read a selection of these works, focusing on his interpretations of technological crisis, of the crisis (or end) of metaphysics, and of the deepest possibilities of poetry and language. Essays to be read include: “The Origin of the Work of Art”; “The Age of the World Picture”; “The Question Concerning Technology”; “Building Dwelling Thinking”; and “The Thing” (among others, as time permits).