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The Evergreen State College
Last Updated: 06/12/2007

Program Description

Mind and the World
Fall, Winter, Spring 2006-07

Faculty: Charles Pailthorp

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.
Spring Quarter:  The first two weeks of spring quarter continued with further work on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  We then moved on to the study of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, for two weeks, then his Philosophical Investigations, again for two weeks.  Wilfrid Sellars’ Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind carried us through weeks seven and eight.  The curriculum concluded with W.V.O. Quine’s essay, “Ontological Relativity” and discussion of themes and developments we had encountered throughout all three quarters. Sellars’ essay “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” was useful in our work at synthesis.  Faculty continued to lecture regularly and two guest lecturers supplemented our work together.  Midway through the quarter, we watched Derek Jarmann’s film, Wittgenstein (1993).

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):

[Taoism and Buddhism] This group investigated the relationship between the mind, phenomena, and morality by enlisting the aid of two different eastern philosophical schools, Buddhism and Taoism. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, and Realizing Emptiness by Gen Lamrimpa were the vehicles for this exploration, and the route included reliance on rational as well as irrational methodologies.  These texts engage their readers in metaphor, symbolism, and an assortment of paradoxes to enliven the mind’s more transcendental functions.  These books supply the reader with a practice to carry out, encouraging the enactment of these methods to provide not only an intellectual, or reasonable, understanding of the theory, but also an experiential comprehension of what is being proposed. Thus, the members of this satellite meditated collectively for a short period before each meeting. During our seminars, however, we carried out the practice of reason with diligence, though never failing to take into account the “irrational” experiences of our meditation.

[Philosophy of Language, v. 1] During spring quarter, students in the Ordinary Language Philosophy satellite read Frege's "On Sense and Reference," Russell's "On Denoting," Austin's How To Do Things With Words and selections from his Philosophical Papers. This group of five students met weekly to seminar on philosophy after the language turn, focusing on meaning, ordinary language, pretending, excuses, and performative utterances.

[Philosophy of Language, v. 2]During spring quarter, students in the Other Minds satellite read Frege's "On Sense and Reference," Russell's "On Denoting," Austin's How To Do Things With Words and selections from his Philosophical Papers. This group of five students met weekly to seminar on these texts, focusing on meaning, ordinary language, pretending, excuses, and performative utterances—philosophy after the language turn.

[Thomas Aquinas] This satellite studied the metaphysics and epistemology of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.  The reading consisted of the “Treatise on God (questions 1-26)” and the “Treatise on Man (questions 75-89),” with selections from Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Categories.  Particular attention was paid to The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity, the Thomist God and the five proofs of His existence, the soul and its operations, the intellect, empirical knowledge acquisition, and the will.  The Summa Theologiae provides a philosophical link between the ancient Greek and the European Enlightenment investigations into the limits of reason.

[Existentialism] The Existentialism Group covered four primary works, each fundamental to the history of existentialism: Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Sartre’s Nausea, and Camus’ The Plague.  Together these works show that within the movement of existentialism there is great variation in message and presentation.  Kierkegaard’s text is straightforward and proposes a theistic existentialism, while Sartre’s work is a novel that clearly favors a more atheistic outlook.  Nietzsche serves as a transition between them, mixing narrative and exposition to his own ends, furthering his concept of the Overman as the ethical imperative for Mankind.  Finally, Camus explores the absurdity of freedom in a world of constrained options.  This group wrote papers on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre, and declared, “We take it upon ourselves to apply what we have learned to our daily lives.  This is the meaning and existence of the existentialism satellite.”

The Heidegger Group worked closely with Edmund Husserl’s The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness, and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. The group met twice weekly to examine the text and communicate ideas. Seminars also served as a forum to brainstorm writing projects. In particular, the group looked for comparisons between the satellite texts and the program material everyone read.

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.