Catalog: Fall 2007 - Spring 2008

2007-08 Catalog: K

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Knowing Me, Knowing Symbols


Spring quarter

Faculty: Kathleen Eamon (philosophy)

Major areas of study include philosophy.

Class Standing: This lower division program accepts freshmen and sophomores.

Faculty Signature: Entry into this program is by faculty signature only. Program faculty will meet with students at the Academic Fair, March 5, 2008 to discuss program organization and student interest. For more information, contact Kathleen Eamon.

Over the course of these ten weeks, I will be finishing my dissertation. This is an invitation to participate in discussions organized almost entirely around that work, which means you'll be witness to the dirty work that goes into a philosophy dissertation, and I'll be able to complete said dirty work in the context of a community and with the help of serious collaborative reading and discussion. My biggest hope is that my enthusiasm for my work with students here will enliven my scholarly work, and my enthusiasm for that scholarly work will enliven our work in common.

My dissertation is basically about our strange and strangely collective capacity to be "interested" in objects or representations that don't seem to hold out any promise of satisfaction, gratification, or use, and to be "repelled" by objects that don't seem to hold out any threat of harm. In this way, it is about us at our most unnatural. I class as "symbolic" all objects and representations to which we are thus oriented, although the task of classifying won't be my primary one. The aim of the dissertation is to understand something about what I call "symbolic rationality": symbol formation, expression, and recognition, as well as the social and political implications, uses, and abuses of these processes. Kant's work on our orientation to works of art will serve as a paradigm for symbolic rationality, but we'll cast our net widely, thinking about religion, politics, popular culture, even hobbies and neuroses.

The investigation moves forward with the help of a series of texts, which include: Kant's Critique of Judgment, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, Marx's Capital, German Ideology, and the 18th Brumaire, finishing with Freud. As a way of making some amends for ignoring "reality" for so long, the final chapter will deploy its hard-won definition of symbolic rationality in an attempt to better understand the contemporary contests over marriage. This will allow us (hopefully) to make clearer some of the connections that will have emerged between this symbolic orientation to objects and representations and our ethical and political orientation to other human beings.

Since this is a fairly unconventional undertaking, we will have to work out some of the details as we move forward. I will provide, a week in advance, a substantial piece of writing for seminar discussion. In addition, we'll read selections from the works cited in the dissertation. I will be relying on the students to help me find the best balance between my secondary work and the primary texts.

Total: 8 credits. Students wishing to register for a 16 credit program should register for Knowing Nature and choose Knowing Me, Knowing Symbols as their 8 credit option within the program.

Enrollment: 23

Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in philosophy and humanities.

This program is also listed under Programs for Freshmen and Culture, Text and Language

Program Updates
This is a new offering for spring 2008. It is offered as a part-time option to interested students, or as part of a 16 credit offering called Knowing Nature.

Knowing Nature

Fall, Winter and Spring quarters

Faculty: Andrew Reece (classical studies), Charles Pailthorp (philosophy), Kathleen Eamon (philosophy), and Krishna Chowdary (physics and applied mathematics)

Major areas of study include philosophy, classical studies, history and philosophy of science, art history, literature, writing and quantitative reasoning.

Class Standing: This lower division program accepts freshmen and sophomores.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for spring quarter entry.

Faculty Signature: For spring quarter entry, no signature is required for the 16 credit option. Students wishing to register for one of the 8 credit "satellite" programs mentioned in the narrative should meet with program faculty at the Academic Fair, March 5, 2008, for more information on program organization and to obtain a signature for the part-time options.

Knowing Nature is a year long, full-time Coordinated Studies Program entering its third quarter in Spring 2008. For details on the spring organization of this program, please see below.

"Nature" can mean several different things. In one sense, nature is simply "what's out there," the material world, often connoting the parts least affected by people. In another sense, it is the world of living organisms, things that are born, mature and die. This is the notion we detect in the Latin natura, with its root in nascor ("to be born"). In a third sense, "nature" denotes "essence," as when we speak of "the nature of politics" or "human nature." Whatever we take the word to mean, we are compelled by both moral and intellectual concerns to ask questions about our relationship to the natural environment, to other species of animals and to our own nature as humans. Are humans part of nature? Only in part? Wholly? Not at all? We often imagine that people are rational, moral and political animals. So, how do these qualities distinguish them from, or give them special place within, the natural order? How do these qualities implicate them in, or make them responsible for, the natural order? Clearly, technology shapes how humans understand and deal with the natural order, but how do we determine who is changing what, or what is changing whom? And, finally, what drives us in our attempts to know nature scientifically? Where do our successes come from, and where our failures?

In this program, we will identify and explore the many tensions that arise between humans, human nature and the natural order: how our conceptions of the natural order have changed, and on what basis we should draw conclusions about what is natural or unnatural; how our sense of place within the natural order has changed; whether or not anything - perhaps our capacity to reason - exempts us from the natural order or gives us special responsibility for it; whether or not our "animal" passions and mortality show that any claim to exception from the natural order must be mistaken.

Although the historical scope of the inquiry is broad, we will focus on three periods when questions about our place in nature have arisen with particular insight or urgency. During fall quarter, we will begin with Greco-Roman antiquity, whose mythical art and literature represents humans as occupying a privileged but precarious position between the animal and the divine, and whose philosophy set forth the problems that Western cosmology, physics, ethics and politics have been trying to solve since. In this period, humans and the natural order were, overall, understood as elements in a purposive, organic cosmos.

In winter quarter, we will move to the later Renaissance and Early Modern periods. The very idea of order moved from a purposive cosmos to a mechanistic, rationally intelligible universe. Developments in navigation, commerce and the sciences forced an increasingly broad, larger and more complex view of the world and the individual's place in it. These developments led Hobbes, Locke and others to contrast "civil society" with a "state of nature," and propose concepts of property, rights and persons that underlie our political and economic realities today.

Spring quarter

During spring quarter, the program format will change. Students may register for 16 credits (full-time) or 8 credits (part-time, signature required).

In the full-time option, we will continue our study from fall and winter into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for 8 of the program credits.

For the other 8 credits, and for part-time students, students will choose one of four satellite components of the program: Discovering Darwin; Knowing Me, Knowing Symbols; Apollo and Dionysus: A Study of Greek Tragedy; and The Nature of Space and Time. Since the satellite programs will run concurrently, no student may take more than one of them. For details on the program schedule, please see the instructors at the Academic Fair on March 5, 2008.

All students (full-time and part-time) will participate in some Knowing Nature all-program workshops and lectures as well as seminars on the readings. They will share their writings and work on revising them in peer-editing workshops. Students should expect to complete a great deal of reading and to write and revise many essays and descriptive narratives. We will also work on developing skills of observation and the analysis and interpretation of artistic forms as well as of quantitative data.

Full-time students will read from the following as part of the all-program work (in addition to the readings from their particular satellite): Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals; Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit; Freud, Civilization and its Discontents; Darwin, The Origin of Species (selections); Nietzche, The Birth of Tragedy; Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution; Eamon, Kant's Judgment of Taste and Symbolic Rationality.

Total: 16 credits each quarter

Enrollment: 92

Special Expenses: $100 for a field trips.

Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in philosophy, classics, literature, history, natural science and education.

This program is also listed under Programs for Freshmen .

Program Updates
This is a new program and is offered as an alternative to the cancelled program Our Place in Nature.
11.07.2007: Prerequisities and signature requirements for entry into the program winter quarter were added.
02.27.2008: The class standing, prerequisites, narrative and faculty signature information have been updated for spring 2008. These changes specify new spring quarter program organization and spring entry requirements and options.