thematic course descriptions


Ideas of the Real (American University in Bulgaria, Topics in Philosophy 301a, Spring 2018)

Idealism is a tradition in the field of philosophy known as metaphysics. Idealists defend a shockingly simple idea: that the mind is the ultimate foundation of reality. The idealist tradition stretches from the very earliest period of philosophy to the present day. Skeptics (Sextus Empiricus, David Hume), Religious Mystics (Meister Eckhart), Rational Empiricists (Hume), Historical Materialists (Karl Marx and Max Horkheimer), Naturalists (John McDowell) and Speculative Realists (Markus Gabriel) criticize idealist notions of the real from various (non-ideal) points of view. This course is an introduction to the metaphysical tradition known as idealism which juxtaposes the foundational texts in the history of idealism against an assortment of critical views that seek to undermine the core beliefs of an idealist notion of the real. This critical approach is essential for understanding not only the idealist view of the real, but also what one might paradoxically call a non-ideal idea of the real.


The Problem of Socratic Citizenship (Bard College, Woodbourne Correctional Facility; Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Eastern Correctional Facility)

This course is an introduction to a Socratic way of life. We explore whether the figure of Socrates represents a model of citizenship. Should we memorialize Socrates’ unconventional life for his attempt to harmonize the diverging interests of political activity and philosophical training? Or should we stridently oppose Socrates as politically imprudent and morally quixotic? Our reading and discussion explore the possibility of philosophical citizenship from both sides of this dispute. The first half of the course investigates literary representations of Socratic philosophy in classical democratic Athens (Aristophanes, Plato) and his supporters in republican and imperial Rome (Cicero, Epictetus, Seneca). The second half turns to the condemnations of Socrates made by Nietzsche and Max Weber. In light of these criticisms, we then examine constructions in modern political thought of philosophically engaged citizenship that address the life of Socrates: John Stuart Mill, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva and Gregory Vlastos.

Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophies (New School, Fall 2012, Spring 2014)

This course is an introduction to a period in the history of Western philosophy that is unparalleled in the range and depth of philosophical inquiry. The course begins with the natural philosopher Thales of Miletus (624-546 BCE) and the mathematician Pythagoras of Samos (570-ca.49o BCE) and culminates with the Hellenistic schools  (the Stoic, Epicurean, and Academic schools) and the rise of Pyrrhonian skepticism in the late first century BCE. This period witnessed the introduction and exploration of virtually all the fundamental philosophical issues that continue to fascinate philosophers today: the nature of existence or reality, the extent and possibility of knowledge, and the question of how to live a good life. The disciplines that philosophers and educators today refer to as mathematics, physics, logicethics, and psychology were then a single subject called philosophy. We will examine the emergence and development of these disciplines in Greek and Roman antiquity. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy is the foundation of all subsequent philosophy in the West, so a central goal of this course is to provide you with a sound working knowledge of the philosophical notions, topics, and methods that arise in this period. The aim of this course is to improve your ability to express your thoughts about complex matters, an achievement that takes practice in evaluating the ideas of ancient philosophers and responding critically with your own reasons and questions.