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The Evergreen State College

Last Updated: 05/30/2008

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Knowing Nature

2007 - 08

Week 10: On Tuesday, bring to seminar your self-evaluation drafts, free-writes, notes, and inspiration. We will be working on this essential essay, the one that will follow you wherever you go.

Program: Knowing Nature
Fall, 2007

Faculty: Krishna Chowdary (physics), Kathleen Eamon (philosophy), Charles Pailthorp (philosophy), Andrew Reece (classics)

In fall quarter, “Knowing Nature” started a year long interdisciplinary study of closely related questions about 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 (our capacity to reason? or consciousness?) exempts us from the natural order or gives us special responsibility for it, and finally whether our “animal” passions and mortality show that any claim to exemption from the natural order must be mistaken.

We began with a brief examination of Descartes’ approach to mind and reality in the first three of his Meditations on First Philosophy. Descartes introduced fundamental questions about perception, cognition, self, finitude, the phenomenal word, and God. With these questions in mind we turned back to Plato’s Protagoras, Meno, Republic, and a section of Timaeus, as well as selections from Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics. In Plato and Aristotle we discovered provocative and influential views about the same problems we found in Descartes, and the Greek authors also raised for us new questions about human nature, reason, desire, morality, and society. Our work with the philosophers on these themes was complemented and intensified by our reading in two poetic and mythic accounts of creation, Genesis and Hesiod’s Theogony, and also Euripides’ tragedy The Bacchae. Throughout the quarter, we studied the first book of Euclid’s Elements, which gave us practice in axiomatic and deductive reasoning and compelled discussions of rational conception, intuition, and apprehension.

Faculty lectures supported this work, which students pursued in seminars and workshops. Twice-weekly seminars began with short quizzes on the assigned material that students submitted for faculty review. In weekly workshops, working in small groups, students demonstrated the geometrical proofs in Euclid up through the Pythagorean Theorem and took short quizzes submitted for faculty evaluation. Students wrote and rewrote a series of four essays, which were presented in weekly peer-critique workshops and reviewed, in final form, by the faculty. The study of writing was aided by two texts: Joseph M. Williams, Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace; Virginia Tufte, Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. Our study of the natural order was presented in a field journal of observations made both on the Evergreen campus and the Nisqually Delta Wildlife Refuge.

At the end of the quarter, students wrote a final examination that included a writing component based on the quarter’s reading and a written demonstration of geometrical proofs. Students also submitted a detailed portfolio of all work they had carried out and a self-evaluation for inclusion in their transcript.


4 Ancient Greek Philosophy
4 Ancient Greek Literature
4 Euclidean Geometry
4 Expository Writing