Philosophical Aspects of Biography: The Nature and Study of Lives
“My life, she said to herself. That was odd: it was the second time that evening that somebody had talked about her life. And I haven’t got one, she thought. Oughtn’t a life be something you could handle and produce” (Virginia Woolf.) In this course, we will attempt to answer certain very general questions about human lives: Are there “stages” of life? Do these stages give human lives coherence and unity? How can we understand the life of another? How can we catch hold of our own lives? We will concentrate on the following aspects of lives: sexual roles, the ability to work, conflict between work and love, sexual passion and love, madness, creativity, the experience of age and the meaning of death, despair and “healthy-mindedness,” the social forms and limitations of lives.
Credit students will be required and all students will be encouraged to select a particular life for study (their own or another’s) and to engage in autobiographical experiments.
The readings will be drawn from philosophy7, psychology, social theory and literature. They will be partly determined by class interest, but they will include: Sartre, Words, Search for a Method; Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Coming of Age, A very Easy Death; William James, Varieties of Religious Experience; Nancy Milford, Zelda; Studs Terkel, Working; Oscar Lewis, Children of Sanchez; James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist; Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Orlando; Irish Murdoch, Sovereignty of the Good, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine; Colette, Earthly Paradise; J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors; Erikson, “The Life Cycle;” Marion Milner, On Not Being Able to Paint.
A Philosophical Study of Psychoanalysis
A philosophical examination of major concepts and claims of psychoanalytic theory. The relation of psychoanalytic theory and therapeutic techniques (dream interpretation, free association, multiple interviews). Psychoanalysis, self-knowledge, and human freedom. The “new morality” of psychoanalysis versus traditional virtues. Attention given primarily to Freud, Anna Freud, Sullivan, and Erikson.
Philosophical Issues in Psychology and Anthropology
What is involved in understanding another person? another culture? A theory of understanding derived from Freud and Wittgenstein is developed, with suicide and witchcraft as primary examples of practices to be understood. Specific topics include: the relation of language to thought and behavior; the nature of “the unconscious”; criteria of personal identity; understanding the “minds” of machines; the relation of psychology to biology and neurophysiology. Also, the nature of social norms; understanding “madness”; making sense of “pre-scientific” practices; the relation of understanding to moral judgment. In addition to discuss of Freud, Wittgenstein and Erikson, reference is made to Aristotle, Collingwood, Sartre, Winch, Charles Taylor, Marx, Evans-Pritchard, Lévi-Strauss, Goffman, Binswanger, Hartmann, Laing and others.
In this seminar we examine the meaning, necessity and value of work. Topics include the distinction between “work” and related concepts such as “job,” “role,” and “career”; the relations of work to fantasy, pleasure, reality, master; women’s work; the conflict between work an love; “work problems.” The course argues that work is an intrinsic good and instrumental in achieving other intrinsic goods; that both the benefits of work and the capacity to work are human—not confined to any sex, class, or culture.
The benefit of work depends upon both capacity and opportunity. The capacity to work (it will be argued) is inherently fragile, however benign the culture. It therefore behooves us to understand the developmental history of that capacity in order to recognize, preserve and extend it. Opportunities to work (it will be argued) are almost never even minimally sufficient to provide the benefits of work. We must therefore demand of any political theory that it address the social problem of providing opportunity.
Readings are drawn from philosophy, psychology, sociology and literature. They include: Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition; Freud, Civilization and its Discontents; Schumacher, Small is Beautiful; Studs Terkel, Working; Barbara Garson, All the Live Long day; selections from the writings of Simone Weil, Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio; Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind; Marx, Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts. It would be helpful if students intending to take this seminar read or re-read Plato’s Republic.
This seminar concentrates on the writings of Plato and Aristotle and deals with problems central to their philosophy—for example: the nature of the soul, causal explanation; reality and appearance; virtue and happiness in addition to the readings from Plato and Aristotle there are readings from the Pre-Socratics, from Greek literature (e.g. Sophocles and Homer) and “secondary” readings from the best of recent philosophical criticism on Plato and Aristotle (e.g. Vlastos, Owen, Anscombe, Gosling, Cooper). The purpose of the seminar is to comprehend these philosophic texts, to engage in disciplined discussion of philosophical issues, to appreciate the cultural context in which the texts were written. Emphasis is equally upon understanding the work of major philosophers and upon using their arguments and insights in order to come to an understanding of topics with which they deal.
Reason, Love, Politics and Conceptions of the Good in Plato
Taking as our principal texts the Republic and the Symposium, we reflect upon the way Plato connects moral virtue with political order and both with the right of ordering of the soul. Although we focus entirely upon Plato, the seminar is meant to provide an introduction to questions central to Western philosophy. Examples of such questions highlighted by Plato are: What is the difference between opinion and knowledge? Are there moral facts and, if so, how do we know them? Is art subversive of or conducive to moral virtue? What is the right use of sexual desire? How is reason related to will and passion? To what extent does the good of one state depend upon and contribute to the moral virtue of its citizens?
Spinoza is widely agreed to have been one of the greatest of the metaphysicians who constructed a systematic account of the universe and the nature of the human being. In his great work, The Ethics, Spinoza explored all of the major topics of philosophy such as God and nature, mind and body, freedom and necessity, kinds and limits of knowledge, the operation of the passions, and the goods of human life. In this seminar we read, explicate and criticize Spinoza’s Ethics. Our task is two-fold. First we understand Spinoza”s thought as deeply and accurately as can mange. Secondly, we assess the adequacy, truth, and consequences of his claims, attending self-consciously to the methods we employ in making our assessment. In understanding Spinoza, we attend to the 17th century religious, intellectual, and moral-political context in which he philosophized. In assessing Spinoza, we treat him as if he were both our contemporary and timeless thinker to whom we turn as we try to understand our universe and our species.
In addition, readings include: Spinoza: On the Improvement of the Understanding; selections from Letters; A Political Treatise and Tractatus Theologico-Politicus; selections from other philosophers—e.g. Aquinas, St. Anselm, Descartes and Hobbes. Several example of contemporary criticism of Spinoza are also read both to assist in understanding Spinoza and to distinguish different kinds and aims of philosophical criticism.
Sartre and Wittgenstein
The course is equally divided between the writings of Sartre and Wittgenstein, two contemporary philosophers whose theses and arguments have much in common despite radical differences in style and audience. Readings include: Sartre: Being and Nothingness, Nausea, Search for a Method, selected essays and plays, and selections from the Critique de la Raison Dialectique, from the biographical works on Genet, Flaubert, and Baudelaire; Wittgenstein: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Philosophical Investigations, On Certainty, Zettel, and lectures on religion, art, and psychoanalysis.
In additions, students are asked to read the best secondary work on Sartre and Wittgenstein (for example, Danto, Anscombe, Stenius, Pears, Kenny). We also read recent biographical studies of these writers (including Sartre’s autobiography, Words) in order to appreciate the cultural, social and political context of their writing.
Virginia Woolf and Simone Weil
Although Virginia Wool and Simone Weil were separated from each other by culture, style, and intellectual training, they shared concerns over the nature and value of work, the evils of violence, the need for “roots” and community, and the effects of hierarchical divisions of class and intellect. Moreover, by dint of their uncommon dedication, moral vehemence and “madness,” the lives of both women require us to clarify the distinction between psychological normality and moral excellence, between therapeutic and spiritual progress. On the other hand, on some issues and in some aspects of their lives, they seem not merely different but opposed. Woolf was a “free-thinking” post-Christian feminist who believed pride in her sex necessary to self respect. From an early age, she was a writer proud of her craft and conscious of her place in a literary tradition. A very private person with an intense social life among a small group of privileged friends, she elaborated the meaning of personal experience and was herself capable of giving and experiencing varieties of pleasure. Weil, born a Jew. became an impassioned Christian without a church. A relatively isolated and difficult person, she lived always among political activists. She attacked the “personal”, seemed willfully anhedonic, insisted on sharing the suffering, even the lives, of the afflicted.
In this seminar we treat these writers, collectively, as one of our great resources for understanding ourselves and our social and natural world. Each of these writers kept extensive journals and wrote political essays, literary criticism, and autobiographical memoirs. We read examples of each kind of writing. In addition, we carefully read four of Wools’s novels: To the Lighthouse, The Waves, The Years, and Between the Acts, and Weil’s Iliad: Poem of Force and The Need for Roots.
Love and Violence in Three Women Writers: Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Jane Lazarre
In this seminar we will read closely three authors who, in their very different ways, portray the complexities of love and the many kinds of violence which are woven into, surround, and threaten love. Certain recurrent themes will organize our discussions: for example, the fate of a community’s outcast, relationships between mothers and children, ideals and costs of friendship and sexual love, violences of war, racism and sexual domination, connections between artistic creation, the courage to see, remember and name, and the risk of madness. Our primary task, however, is to read together five rich and difficult novels as precisely and insightfully as we are able. Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse; Toni Morrison: Sula, Beloved; Jane Lazarre: Worlds Beyond my Control. (Writing and Literature concentration)
Self and Other
Our primary purpose in this seminar is to trace the emergence in European philosophy of a dominant concept of the self. According to this conception, selves are private, obscure to themselves, yet unwittingly revealed to observant strangers. We are not born with selves but achieve them. The achievement of the self depends upon complex, often hostile, frequently sado-masochistic relations to the other. To achieve a self is to become self-conscious, self-controlled and autonomous. One of the primary means to a achieve a self is to overcome the body, particular affections, and fear of death. Only the achieved self can engage in human projects which “transcend” mere life. “Civilization” depends upon our having achieved selves; however, the self achieved is ambivalently and tentatively related to the civilization in which it finds itself. We will trace the development of this concept of the self in the writings of Descartes, Hegel, Freud, Sartre, and de Beauvoir. We will subject this dominant concept to reflective critique making use of alternative conceptions of the self which appear in the writings of contemporary thinkers such as Albert Memmi, Audre Lorde, and Carol Gilligan.
Identity, Emotion and Moral Responsibility
This seminar is organized around several connected questions: How are selves created within relationships and communities? What is the role of emotion in constructing, confirming and disrupting a “sense of self”? How is “self”-respect endangered or protected in conditions of oppression? In what ways does a sturdy “sense of self’ foster or inhibit moral responsibility? We begin with psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of identity throughout the “life cycle,” focusing upon connections between personal identity and ascribed or acquired political and social identifications. We then explore two sets of emotions: the moral emotions of shame and guilt and the “self-preservative” emotions of anger, pride, and indignation. We critically assess the ways in which these emotions are necessary for, or disruptive of self-respect and moral responsibility. Finally we turn to the congeries of emotions called “love.” Drawing upon psychoanalytic theory, we examine the construction of sexual desire and its constitutive role in the formation of identity, attending especially to sado-masochistic fantasies and practices. We then discuss the varieties of love and friendship with particular reference to the meaning of jealousy and envy. We conclude by discussing “family love” and its ways of promoting or hindering the capacities of family members to care for themselves, intimates, neighbors, and distant strangers. Principal texts: Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethiucs, Sandra Barky, Femininity and Domination, Audre Lorde, Sister/Outsider; Patricia Williams, Alchemy of Race and Rights, and selected writings of Freud. In addition we read short writings by various philosophers and psychoanalysts including Anthony Appiah, Hannah Arendt, Jessica Benjamin, Nancy Chodorow, W.E.G. DuBois, Erik Erikson, J. Glenn Gray, Karl Jaspers, Peter Lyman, Amelie Rorty and Gayle Rubin. (Students should have had at least one course in either philosophy or psychology or permission of the instructor.)
Thinking and Moral Considerations
What is thinking? How is thinking different from perceiving, knowing, judging, deliberating, imagining, arguing? Is the inability to think connected with failures of conscience? Does the ability to think inhibit the capacity to engage in evil acts? Is thinking connected to integrity, love, truthfulness and courage? We consider these questions by studying writers who believe that the practice of thinking has serious moral consequences both for thinkers and the world they think about. These writers ask how ordinary people commit atrocities, how good people let evil flourish. Our primary purpose is to identify a kind of intellectual activity—thinking—in which we engage and whose moral and emotional implications we then assess. Our second task is to become clear about one of the questions these writers raise: how does an ordinary “good” person act in violent and evil times: Readings: Plato, Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, and Phillip Hallie.
Moral Reflection, Moral Change
How do we arrive at our moral principles,; how do we test and revise these principles? What is the relation between reflection and deliberation, moral judgment, action? How do we evaluate our moral emotions (e.g. shame, guilt, indignation)? What experiences, thought processes and emotions lead to moral change? How do we distinguish between moral development and moral revolution? These and other questions are considered in order to assess moral reflection and moral change both from moral and from epistemological points of view. Readings include accounts of moral conversion (Plato’s Symposium, Sartre’s Nausea, Camus’ The Fall) and moral struggle (Camus, The Plague) and philosophical reflections upon moral thinking. Finally, certain moral concepts are explored and related which, jointly, might constitute a revolutionary moral vision: attentive love, domination, humiliation, objectification, and authenticity, “banality of evil,” and the value of inner life. These concepts are assessed both for their own sake and an example against which we can test and extend our understanding of moral change. In addition to Plato, Camus, and Sartre, readings are drawn from Hannah Arendt, Thomas Kuhn, Freud, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, and Irish Murdoch.
Feminist Moral Theory
In the last two decades, North American philosophers and legal theorists have developed distinctively feminist moral theory. The purpose of this course is to explore and assess this recent work. We will focus on certain key values that have been subject to feminist revision: justice, rights, care, responsibility, freedom, difference and community. We will attend to several general methodological questions: What does it mean for a moral theory to be feminist? What are the distinctive methods of feminist moral inquiry? How do feminists imagine the development of a moral “self”? How do feminists construe the relation between moral reasoning and emotion? In what way does feminist moral theory depend upon and contribute to psychological theories of development and psychoanalytic theories of identity? We will test feminist moral theory by its ability to contribute to particular tasks: identifying and combating injustice in families; fostering women’s bodily integrity and procreative power; resisting racial and sexual bigotry; recognizing and responding to needs of “others,” particularly “other” mothers who are impoverished; articulating ideal of free and respectful speech, undermining a culture of violence and preparing for a culture of “peace.” Our three principal texts are Patricia Williams, Alchemy of Race and Rights; Virginia Held, Feminist Morality: Transforming Culture, Society and Politics; and Martha Fineman, The Neutered Mother: The Sexual Family, and Other Twentieth Century Tragedies. In addition to a wide variety of feminist philosophers and legal theorists, we will also read developmental psychologists and psychoanalysts who have strongly influenced feminist theory– in particular Carol Gilligan, Jessica Benjamin, and Luce Irigary. (Prerequisite: open to juniors and seniors who have taken one course in gender studies (Graduate Faculty Gender Studies and Feminist Theory).
Feminist Critiques of Reason: “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy
In this seminar we analyze critically, from a feminist perspective, prevailing ideals of rationality and objectivity. We are guided by two sets of questions: (1) Are ideals of reason as they have developed in Western philosophy “male”? If so, are these ideals institutionalized in normative concepts of reading, writing, and teaching? In what ways is the “maleness” of ideals of reason connected to race and class? (2) Have women developed distinctive kinds of reasoning? If so, why and how have these developed? What are the political or moral uses of women’s reasoning? How can we speak of women’s different reasoning without denying differences among women? Throughout our discussion, we focus upon the tension between feminist egalitarian principles and claims that reason is genderized? We attempt to articulate a sexual politics of reason which is philosophically adequate and appropriate to feminist aims. Readings include Genevieve Lloyd, Man of Reason, Evelyn Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science; Audre Lorde, Sister/Outsider; Susan Griffin, Made of the Earth; Bell Hooks, From the Margin to the Center; Mary Daly, Pure Lust; Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born; Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice; Nancy Hartsock, Money, Sex and Power; and works from French Feminism.
War and Morality
In this seminar we consider the moral dilemmas confronting a citizen who is asked to participate in war or military training for war. Our questions include: What is the difference between violence and war? Is violence justified in self-defense? Is war justified in defense of one’s own community, nation, or the nation’s “interests”? Can there now be, has there ever been, just wars which aim to modify the policies or defend the interest of another community or nation? When, if ever do citizens have a duty to participate in wars of which they disapprove? What is the difference between conscientious and self-interested objections to war? Do all citizens have a right to participate in wars of they approve? Can the state force citizens to participate in ware of which they disapprove? Are there weapons, policies and acts which are morally illegitimate in the justest of wars? In resisting evil, what are the alternatives to violence and war? Can you force others to resist evils to which they are indifferent or blind? Readings: Plato, Crito; John Keegan, The Face of Battle; Tim O’Brien, If I Die in a Combat Zone; Simone Weil, Iliad: Poem of Force, J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors; Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars; Sophocles, Antigone; Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed; various recent articles of philosophers and political theorists.
Non-violence and Morality
Our task is to articulate and assess the theoretical bases and practical implications of a commitment to non-violence. Theories of non-violence combine several kinds of concern. Most obviously, the non-violence of pacifists is derived from more general moral and metaphysical principles which shape individual and communal aims by establishing requirements for the resolution of any conflict. In pacifist literature, strategic questions are inextricably linked with philosophical, moral and psychological ones, for example: What do we mean by the sacredness of persons? Can we know the good and if not how can we resist evil? What is the relation between mind and body, human and other animals, culture and nature? Can there be non-violent power, coercion, authority? Is violence “natural”? How are violence and sexuality connected? Is there any connection between violence and various intellectual activities such as thinking, attending, abstracting, simplifying? Why is violence attractive? These and other questions are addressed in the theory of non-violence developed by Gandhi and his successors. In the first part of the course we study Gandhian theory and practice. Readings include: Joan Bondurant, The Conquest of Violence, H.J.N Horsburgh, Non-Violence and Aggression; Erik Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth; Kenneth Kaunda, The Riddle of Violence and selections from Gandhi’s writings on non-violence. We study historical conflicts in which non-violent methods were used to bring about change or to resist aggression and tyranny. Finally, we study writers who, though no pacifists themselves, reflect upon the significance of violence: Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simon Weil.
War in Women’s Writing
Wars, for the most part, have been planned, directed and fought by men. We begin by reading the poetry and philosophical reflections of three men who rejected the enterprise of war. Wilfred Owen, J.Glenn Gray, and Martin Luther King Jr. We then trurn to women who, wheter as critics or supporters, offer an outsider’s view of war. We consdier reflections spurred by the First and Second World Wars, the Spanish Civil War, the Viet Nam War, current warsin Central America, and the nuclear arms race. By way of comparison, we read fictional accounts of the struggle for civil rights in the American south. We read essays, memoirs, poetry and fiction. Readings are expected to include essays by Virginia Woolf, Simone Weil, Helen Caldicott, and Barbara Deming; fiction by Ellas Leffland, Jayne Anne Phillips, Alice Walker, Monique Wittig, Rosellen Brown, and Chrsta Wolf; memoirs by Vera Britain and Iris Origo; poetry by several writers including Carolyn Force, Sharon Olds, and Vidahuz Meneses. Students are encouraged to amend the syllabus to suit thier special interests and to write fictional or autobiographical accounts of their own about experiences of war.