Ancient Philosophy East and West

This proseminar is organized around a comparative focus on ancient China and classical Greece, and, to a lesser extent, ancient Rome. It will explore the meaning of the affinities and differences between the notions of self-cultivation, on the one side, and care of the soul, on the other, in Kongzi, Mengzi, Zhuangzi, the Buddha, Plato, Epicurus, and the Stoics.

In Plato’s work care of the soul takes the form of a search for the knowledge of what the good is. This search unfolds through dialogical engagement with others and with the tradition to which we belong and might be thought to culminate in the ideal of a self in which reason, aspiration, and appetite are harmoniously integrated into a well-balanced and beautiful whole. For Epicurus, the ideal is ataraxia, or tranquility, which results from the moderation of appetites and the development of intellectual clarity about what truly matters. In Stoic thought we find a philosophy of self-care in which we are enjoined to order our preferences in a manner that accords with reason and with nature.

An important theme common to all three of the Asian philosophies we will examine (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism) is a focus on the idea and practice of self-cultivation. In this process of self-transformation there is a unity of theory and practice, knowing and doing, such that the everyday activities of ordinary life come to take on great spiritual significance. This is way of living that leads to the inner illumination of self-knowledge, which is an achievement that is not aimed at merely for one’s own sake but also for the sake of the others to whom one is always related.

Seminar in Comparative Phenomenology  

This course addresses, through a cross-cultural approach, the question of how to understand the nature and significance of the relation between self and other in phenomenology. We begin with the Japanese phenomenologists Watsuji Tetsurō and Kimura Bin, who were early and pioneering contributors to issues in collective intentionality, social cognition, and phenomenological psychopathology. Explicating the concepts that Watsuji and Kimura deploy in developing a phenomenology of the self allows us to understand intentional comportments as constitutively social and to make new sense of phenomena ranging from the process of individuation to the collective subjectivity of group life, from the breakdown of the self to its fuller realization.

These ideas, in turn, can be related to Heidegger’s notion of co-existence (Mitsein) and Merleau-Pontys understanding of intersubjective relations as a primordial, pre-subjective field. The conception of intersubjective experience that emerges from these comparisons can reframe our sense of how social relations function in the constitution of the self.

Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics

The purpose of this graduate course is to examine the idea of philosophical hermeneutics found in the work of Gadamer. We will focus especially on Gadamer’s reflections on the nature of language, the character of rationality, and the question of non-scientific modes of truth. Because hermeneutics as Gadamer conceives it is also practical philosophy, much of our attention will be taken up with the question of the relation between rhetoric, dialogical reason, and the problems of ethical life.

Intersubjectivity after Heidegger

This course examines the possibility of synthesizing Husserlian and Heideggerian approaches to the phenomenology of sociality in order to compensate for what is missing in each account. This would be to understand In-der-Welt-sein and Mitsein as equiprimordial (gleichursprünglich) ontological structures constitutive of Dasein even as we grasp the constitutive significance for Dasein of the concrete relation to and encounter with others. Nonetheless, Heidegger’s approach also has the advantage of overcoming the primacy of the subject. Hence the way forward for thinkers such as Merleau-Ponty lies in an understanding of intersubjective relations as a primordial, pre-subjective field. We can contrast this notion with the thought of Sartre and Levinas, which disrupts the continuity between self and other, and with the ideas of Arendt, which entail a consideration for these investigations of our self-disclosive presence to one another. While a constitutive orientation towards like-structured life is a primary source of existential meaning, the notion of trans-subjective intersubjectivity calls for a shift in our self-understanding.


Asian Philosophy

This course offers an overview of East Asian philosophy. Much of our attention will be taken up with an examination of the three streams of thought that make up the core of this tradition, namely, Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. In the first part of the course we will survey the most important figures (in the case of classical Chinese thought) and themes (in the case of Buddhism) associated with these three great “Ways.”

In the latter part of the course we will look at the ways in which twentieth-century thinkers in Japan (especially figures associated with the Kyoto School such as Nishida Kitarō and Watsuji Tetsurō) have appropriated and transformed this intellectual heritage by articulating classical metaphysical and ontological positions in novel ways and by developing creative responses to questions about ethical life as well as about the nature of the self.

Zen and Philosophy

This course focuses on the relation between Zen Buddhism and philosophy. It introduces the basic principles and tenets of Buddhism and provides an overview of the origins and historical development of the Zen school. Because Daoism influenced the reception of Buddhism in China and shaped the distinctively Chinese form of Buddhism known as Chan (Zen), we will also examine Daoist discourse and practices as these emerge from the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi.

In the latter half of the course we will look at the ways in which Zen has shaped Japanese philosophy by considering the doctrines of medieval thinkers such as Dōgen as well as the views of the 20th-century philosophers Nishida Kitarō and Kimura Bin. Nishida renews and transforms traditional metaphysical and ethical positions and ideas found in Zen Buddhism while Kimura’s work offers a framework that enables us to make sense of large and important concepts in philosophy and psychology such as self and nature, perception and sensation, and mental illness and self-realization.

Major Figures: Sartre and Merleau-Ponty 

This upper-level undergraduate course focuses on the nature of consciousness and the question of intersubjectivity in the phenomenology of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. We look at what each takes from the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger in these respects as well as where each makes a break with his predecessors. We consider the meaning and significance of Sartre’s concepts of nothingness and non-positional self-consciousness and Merleau-Ponty’s notion of incarnated consciousness. We will also investigate the significance of the relation between self and other for Sartre and examine Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of intersubjective relations as a primordial, pre-subjective field. 

Modernism and the Arts  I

Modernism and the Arts is a year-long, twelve-credit course on Modernism and the expressive arts of literature, music, painting, sculpture and architecture. The focus all year will be on the distinctive features that appear with the emergence of twentieth-century European and American culture. 

The fall semester opens with an examination of important precursors of modernism such as Flaubert, Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy (in literature) and Beethoven, Brahms, Weber, Gluck, and Wagner (in music) before considering the innovative but difficult Modernist works of writers such as Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, and Eliot.

Modernism and the Arts  II

The historical period that bridges the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a period of rapid and unprecedented transformation in Western culture. Life was changing, the world was changing, and these changes, while often beneficial, caused a great deal of anxiety and confusion. 

The spring semester of Modernism and the Arts studies the ways great artists responded to this complicated period of renewal, reform, and rejection. It focuses on painting (esp. Impressionism, Pointillism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Primitivism, Expressionism, Neo-Plasticism), sculpture (esp. Rodin, Boccioni, Brancusi, Giacometti, Moore), and architecture (esp. Richardson, Gropius, Le Corbusier, Wright) as well as on transitional and modernist works of music. In the process of seeking to discover the common cultural vision informing Modernist art, we will also be considering, through and with that art, the various philosophical questions that have occupied thinkers and artists for millennia.

Perspectives on Western Culture I

Perspectives is an introductory survey of the intellectual history of the West from a philosophical perspective. It is structured either implicitly or explicitly by the Socratic question,what is the best way to live? In the first semester, students deal with two of what may be termed spiritual eruptions: the rise of Greek philosophy and the Judeo-Christian experience of Gods self revelation in history. These two spiritual eruptions, whose epicenters are Athens and Jerusalem, respectively, are the principle foundations of Western civilization. Figures and texts covered include selections from the Old and New Testaments, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Dante.

Perspectives on Western Culture II 

Perspectives is an introductory survey of the intellectual history of the West from a philosophical perspective. The second semester begins by focusing on the ideas that mark the thinkers of the Renaissance as typically and emphatically modern, despite their substantial differences. Instead of treating modernity as a simple process of secularization, the semester proceeds to examine not only the theological reactions to secularism, but also the way theological concerns shape modernity. Figures covered include Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Pascal, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud.