Mind and the World
What can we be said to know, either of ourselves or the world? How does what we believe, or sense, come to represent what there is? In the end, should we conclude there must be two orders of being, Being-for-Mind and Being-in-Itself? What are the origins of concepts, and how are they answerable to anything non-conceptual? Do we know, or think or feel, anything that cannot be said? Should we suppose our inner lives are shared by others, that others actually can know how we think and feel? “Mind and the World” addressed such central, abiding questions in metaphysics, philosophy of mind and the theory of knowledge. Questions were refined and sharpened, answers developed and given close critique. Our chief aim was to become better at active philosophical inquiry.
Our primary activity was close reading and discussion of classic texts. Three times each week, students met in two seminars, where the work centered on direct explication of a text. “What is being said and argued?” was the first question. “How does this compare with what others have said and argued?” followed. These questions led to others about style, approach, and what a philosopher understood to be the nature of philosophical inquiry. As the year progressed, “The Nature and Limits of Human Reason” became a central theme, reflecting our extensive study of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason during winter quarter.
Students wrote and rewrote three to five page essays throughout the year, a dozen or so in all. Accompanying this work, students met weekly in small groups (drawn equally from the two seminars) to critique and discuss one another’s essays. Typically, a group would have six essays up for discussion, and students were asked to read the entire set. Not far into the program, students chose to have two “designated readers” for each essay, whose responsibility would be to offer a close, detailed written critique of the given essay. The leading question about each essay was whether or not it served to help the reader develop a better understanding of the text at hand. As the year progressed, some students chose to experiment with forms that might be of their own devising or that might be modeled on a text we had studied together. Students were discovering, and teaching one another, that both writing and reading philosophy encompass many a variety of activities. Students were asked to rewrite each essay following the writing workshop and each quarter to give at least one essay further work beyond that.
Faculty lectures, including some by guests, were offered as support for student work.
Fall quarter: Plato, Meno and Theaetetus; Aristotle, Categories, On Interpretation, and Metaphysics (selections); Francis Bacon, The New Organon, Book I and selections from Book II; Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (including objections and replies); Leibniz, “Critical Remarks Concerning the General Part of Descartes’ Principles,” Discourse on Metaphysics, “Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason,” Monadology.
In addition to weekly lectures by the regular faculty, two guest lecturers presented their thoughts on the history of Greek science and on Leibniz’s contributions to mathematics. As the quarter drew to a close, we took time to reflect on 17th c. painting, particularly a few works by Caravaggio, Velasquez and Vermeer. We also found diversion in a film version of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.
Winter Quarter: During break students read Locke’s An
Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Hume’s An Enquiry
Concerning Human Understanding. Students discussed and wrote
essays on these texts in preparation for an extensive study of Kant’s Critique
of Pure Reason. Our study of Kant continued for seven weeks,
and the quarter ended with close work on the opening chapters of Hegel’s Phenomenology
of Spirit, which continued into spring quarter. Two guest
lecturers (both professors of philosophy) added their perspectives
on the significance of Kant’s work for later philosophical developments.
During spring quarter, each student affiliated with one of five “satellite groups,” which undertook discussion and writing that focused on: Aquinas, Heidegger, Eastern Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, or Existentialism. The student evaluated in this document participated in the group “NAMED” (as described by the participants):
Concluding remark: A central aspiration of Evergreen’s approach to undergraduate education is that students work together collaboratively as a community of learners. This comes about only if students discover that respect for one another must be built on sound preparation and, in this curriculum, a shared value to honor the texts at hand through close attention to what one finds on the page. From that basis, students might discover how much and how well they can support one another’s learning. Over twenty students in “Mind and the World” completed the entire three-quarter curriculum. Together they became an outstanding, effective learning community. They demonstrated that this high aspiration can be achieved.