Liberal Arts Preceptorials
We will begin with a very brief consideration of the Ethics, the companion volume to the Politics, in order to get a sense of the shape of Aristotle's project as a whole in these works. Most of our time will be dedicated to a slow reading of the Politics.
Early Buddhist Discourses
Like Socrates and Jesus, the Buddha left nothing in writing. Our most proximate access to his teachings is via the texts of the Pali Canon, a collection of orally-transmitted scriptures in the Pali language (a relative of Sanskrit) that were first written down in 29 BCE, around 450 years after the Buddha's death. In this preceptorial we'll read and grapple with a selection of texts (suttas) from the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon. These texts will offer an introduction to the person and teachings of the historical Buddha, including the story of his enlightenment, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, no-self (anatta), dependent origination
(paticcasamuppada), action (kamma), right conduct (sila), meditation/cultivation (bhavana), and enlightenment/extinction (nibbana). No prior experience with "Eastern Philosophy" is assumed or required.
John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy and Democracy and Education
Like other distinctively-American thinkers, John Dewey jettisoned the notion of philosophy-as-modeled-on-geometry ("Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here") and reconstituted philosophy on the model of experimental natural science. This collapsed the distinctions between theory and practice, between reason and experience, between a knowing subject and a known object, between "supernatural" ghost-like minds and "natural" machine-like bodies, and between the educational aims of an idle, slave-owning, wealthy-and-landed elite upper-class and those of a productive, oppressed, impoverished-and-enslaved lower-class. Dewey re-conceived not merely what to think but more importantly how to think about morality, education, and political theory, arguing for American democracy and against European fascism.
Montaigne, Selections from The Essays.
Soldier, skeptic, man of the world and man of books—if you want more of what you got a taste of in sophomore year, this is your chance. We will read a wide selection of his essays from each of the three parts of the complete Essais, including the monumental "Apology for Raymond Sebond" (over the course of several meetings). In order to move in a careful, preceptorial-like manner, nightly readings will be between 20 and 50 pages.
Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus
We will engage in a close study of this great work of Socratic political philosophy. More like a novel than a history, Xenophon's story depicts the ascent of Cyrus from citizen of a republic in Persia to ruler of a world empire. In this presentation of extraordinary ambition and leadership, Xenophon examines the nature and limits of political life from a perspective informed by his teacher, Socrates. Through a careful reading, we hope to uncover the philosophic depths hidden within this captivating story of adventure and conquest.
Shakespeare: Tragedy and Comedy: King Lear and A Winter's Tale
Shakespeare's dramas afford us a singular opportunity to learn about the human psyche, the imagination, civic communities,nature, and the world. At times, it seems as though Shakespeare presents us with an entire cosmology. One wonders, does Shakespeare have a poetic metaphysics? What are the differences between his dramatic poetry and a philosophic
treatise or Platonic dialogue? What insights do we gain through tragic pathos and comic play? These are some of the questions that we will address as we read two of Shakespeare's most puzzling and contrasting works: King Lear and A Winter's Tale.
Poetry of Wordsworth and Keats
Wordsworth, the poet of nature and the human heart, calls us to "Come forth and bring with you a heart/ That watches and receives." We'll try to learn to do this by a careful reading of some of his poems, especially his autobiographical poem, The Prelude, and the Preface to his Lyrical Ballads. He claims that "Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge." Why poetry,
and what sort of knowledge is it? Then we'll move on to the great reflective odes of Keats
and his declaration that "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, --that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.'"
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Nietzsche has this to say about his Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
"The fundamental idea of the work, the Eternal Recurrence, the highest formula of a life caffirmation that can ever be attained was first conceived in the month of August 1881. I made a note of the idea on a sheet of paper with the postscript: "Six thousand feet beyond man and time". That day I happened to be wandering through the woods beside the Lake of Silvaplana and halted not far from Surlei beside a huge pyramidal block of stone. It was then that the thought struck me. Looking back now I find that exactly two months before this inspiration I had an omen of its coming in the form of a sudden and decisive change in my
tastes—more particularly in music." ( Ecce Homo, 1888)
Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy (1936/1954)
Crisis is Husserl's last book length work: "the richest results of my life's work of over forty years." Like many of his other books it is called an introduction to phenomenology. Yet in this work Husserl's phenomenology takes a new path in many ways. Husserl develops his approach to questions concerning history, intersubjectivity and 'the life-world' (Lebenswelt) before his presentation oftranscendental phenomenology. The crisis he addresses concerns the foundations of exact sciences and their "objectivism" as well as human sciences (especially psychology) that model themselves on exact sciences. There is also "a radical life-crisis of European humanity;" Europe threatens to succumb into irrationality. Husserl, furthermore, sees it as a crisis in philosophy as it is losing its"unity." Husserl aims to show how phenomenology as rationalism grounded on transcendental subjectivity can be the way out of the crisis. Due to Husserl's inquiry into the insufficient foundations of the sciences through his reading of Galileo, Descartes, Hume and Kant, the study of Crisis offers one a compelling way to understand our work within the Program.
The French Revolution: Burke and Tocqueville
The most outstanding difference between the American (1776) and French (1789) revolutions is that the latter is followed by the infamous Reign of Terror (and then the Napoleonic empire). This brought many to wonder (Hegel among them in "Absolute Freedom and Terror" of the Phenomenology) about the shocking conjunction of the pursuit of our highest ideals (for example, freedom) and violence.
To begin our thinking about this question, we will read two famous studies about "recent" events: Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856).
Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Plague, (and other writings).
Galileo, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
The expectation is to read the text, which needs no introduction systematically; the pace will require about 30 pages per session. There may also be some supplementary readings from Aristotle's "On the Heavens" and Copernicus' "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres": these will be supplied as xeroxes.
Alan Turing's "On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem." (1936).
What can computation achieve and of what is it incapable? Gödel had shown that there are unprovable (yet true) propositions, but he was not able to show if there was a method for distinguishing provable from unprovable propositions. Among other things, Turing showed that there is no 'effectively computable' procedure for determining whether a proposition is provable or not. The words 'effectively computable' were not very precise, so Turing also invented a machine (now called a Turing Machine) to represent the kinds of operations of which a 'computer' is capable, and he devised another machine (the Universal Turing
Machine) which was capable of performing the operations of any other 'computer.' [n.b., modern computers, such as your laptop and smart phone are examples of Universal Turing Machines]. Most generally, Turing's dense, complex, and highly mathematical paper raises questions about the nature and limitations of 'computing.'
We will use Charles Petzold's book The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine. It's more of a manual than a text. Turing's paper was 36 pages long, but the book is about 360 pages long. The entirety of Turing's paper is included verbatim in the book, but sections of the paper (sometimes as short as a single line) are separated by background material and introductions to topics as diverse as Hilbert's aims in mathematical formalism, set theory ,and computability. In general the book seems to be well done. Be warned, however: the author is an expert on computers and software, not in higher mathematics, and not in philosophical (or sometimes even critical) thought. I haven't read much of the book yet, but I have already seen places where I think he makes mistakes, writes imprecisely, or does not seem aware of his assumptions, so we will have to read carefully to avoid making those same mistakes ourselves.
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Here is Emma Bovary thinking about love after her marriage to Charles is clearly not going to involve love:
Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings, - a hurricane of the skies, which sweeps down on life, upsets everything, uproots the will like a leaf and carries away the heart as in an abyss. She did not know that on the terrace of houses the rain makes lakes when the pipes are choked and she would thus have remained safe in her ignorance until she suddenly discovered a rent in the walls.
Here is Rodolphe thinking about his affair with Emma after it has been going on for a while:
He had so often heard these things said that they did not strike him as original. Emma was like all his mistresses; and the charm of novelty, gradually falling away like a garment, laid bare the eternal monotony of passion, that has always the same shape and the same language. He was unable to see, this man so full of experience, the variety of feelings hidden within the same expressions […] The human tongue is a cracked cauldron on which we beat out tunes to set a bear dancing when we would make the stars
weep with our melodies.
Emma Bovary's quixotic effort to love fails miserably in its bourgeois confines. But what a wonderful failure Flaubert succeeds at presenting! Emma's failure overcomes the bourgeois soap-opera and "the eternal monotony of (bourgeois) passion, that has always the same shape and the same language." Because of this she is my pathetic heroine. She makes expression strangely powerfully lovely, life-affirming, and tragic, a little bit like Don Quixote.
Goethe, Faust, Parts I and II
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, Vol. I.
The last great novel of Ideas (in the vein of Joyce and Proust) in which powerful minds continue to struggle with the most important questions despite the crumbling of their world around them.
Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
In this work Merleau-Ponty confronts a neglected dimension of our experience: the lived body and the phenomenal world. He argues that we should regard the body not as a mere biological or physical unit, but as a body which structures one's situation and experience within the world. He draws upon famous cases in the history of psychology and neurology as well as phenomena that continue to draw our attention, such as phantom limb syndrome, synesthesia, and hallucination.
J. S. Bach, St. Matthew Passion
This preceptorial is based upon the firm conviction that an in-depth, slow study of Bach's St. Matthew Passion will be amply repaid. In Sophomore Music we get an inkling of the power created by this particular combination of music and words. Let us pursue what happens when the Gospel, lyric poetry, and communal sentiments are expressed by recitatives, arias, and familiar Protestant melodies. What is this power and how does it arise?
Since our "book" is a complex musical score with lyrics you will need to be able to read music well, and have a grasp of tonal harmony. We will approach the work with all the tools we have available to us, including open ears. We will listen with great attentiveness and focus.
Any GI students interested need to meet with me so we can see if they have the appropriate skills.
We all read it in our freshman seminar. Now you, and I, may be ready to really dig into it.
SOCRATES: Well it's this very thing that I'm at a loss about, and I don't have the power to get at it adequately by myself, just exactly what knowledge is. So do we have it in us to state it? What do you folks say? Which of us should speak first?
Forays into the worlds of microorganisms
Through the study of seminal papers about the microbial world(s), beginning with their initial 17th-century explorations by Hooke and Leeuwenhoek, and including, among others, works of Pasteur, Haeckel, Huxley, Lwoff, Jacob, Spiegelman and Woese, we will pursue two interlocked questions: What is an organism? What is a world? In the process, we will encounter Bacteria, Archaea, viruses, symbioses, the human microbiome, horizontal gene transfer, problems of classification (yet again!) and evolution (yet again!), and the chaotic crisis that is modern biology – one seemingly born when invisible worlds were seen to
impinge our own.
This precept will include the opportunity for interested students to perform a few experiments and observations, probably outside of the formal class period.
Charles Darwin, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animal
This pioneering work on expression , psychology, the relationship between our inner and outer states, and the comparative behavior of animals and humans from diverse cultures will be our main text. We will also read Erwin Straus' "The Upright Posture" and other essays on phenomenological psychology and some work by early South African ethologist Eugene Marais to further explore the comparative behavior and expression of animals and man.
*For Graduate Institute students in Philosophy and Theology, Politics and Society, or History segments as indicated.