College Of Arts and Sciences | The Examined Life
E103 | 0070 | Senchuk, D.


The word "philosophy" means "love of wisdom" and, since its origin
among the ancient Greeks, philosophy has claimed to be a way of life,
or to have implications for how one lives.  What is wisdom, and what
would it be like to live in love with wisdom?  Can such a life be
lived by anyone, or is it exclusively for a gifted elite?
Furthermore, what is the value of such a life?  Socrates famously
said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but is this true?
To be sure, the reflective life of philosophy has its costs: as
Socrates himself learned, societies and states resent the ways in
which philosophers question and criticize traditional beliefs and
values, and philosophers have found themselves persecuted, even
sentenced to death, by their fellow-citizens.  In response, they have
developed a rich variety of conceptions of the individual's complex
relation to society, and a rich variety of ways of living and writing
in the face of resentment.

We will examine the thought and lives of four important philosophers,
drawn from a variety of historical periods and cultures. The list of
four will include some of the following: Socrates, Descartes, Hume,
Rousseau, Emerson, Thoreau, Mill, Russell, and Beauvoir.  Each of
these philosophers had  - and continues to have - an enormous
influence on the world around them, not only through their ideas, but
also through their lives.  As philosophers, they were concerned with
a variety of philosophical problems, such as life after death, civil
disobedience, the possibility and limits of certain knowledge, the
overcoming of skeptical doubt, the nature of the mind, the best
political order, the value of the arts, the significance of gender
differences, and the possibility of individual autonomy within
society.  We will investigate what they have to say about these
problems, and we will situate their philosophizing within the context
of their lives and their responses to the hostility they provoked
through their questioning.  We will try to understand them not only
as thinkers but also as people.

In this course, students will be introduced to some central
philosophical personalities, texts, problems and methods.  They will
learn to discern philosophy in dialogues, plays, letters, treatises
and movies, and they will be invited to draw on their own creative
talents in order to explore whether philosophical lives might be
lived here and now, and what such lives might be like.  What are the
unexamined assumptions of the society in which we live?  How might we
question those assumptions and might our conclusions challenge
society's foundations?  What role might philosophical questioning
play in a contemporary democracy?  Could we lead examined lives
today?  There will be 2 short papers, some brief homework, a midterm
and a final.