2:30 PM – 3:20 PM MW
See Schedule of Classes for discussion section times
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.